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Simply Elementary

Chapter Text

So when it got to the part where Mike and Puck had their happy ending and the A/V equipment had been packed away and their whole little glee family had gotten to celebrate; Mike and Puck eventually got to explain the process of how they got back together, which inevitably led to somebody asking why the hell Karofsky was there.

To which everyone involved had replied, "Because he's awesome" (though this was something Dave could only infer as he wasn't actually present for said explanation) and then the world had kept turning and everyone was good and happy and fine because the world's two biggest idiots had finally dug their heads out of their asses and confessed their undying love for each other. Or at least, as much as they could manage while still being the world's two biggest idiots.

It was something they reveled in, Dave was sure.

The problem then, after the happily ever after, was that now he got the looks. The, "What do they know that I don't?" looks.

Dave knew what those meant. It meant they were going to look closer, to see what defect he had that made him just a 'specialist unique shining star' like the rest of them. What was his deal that made him accepted, what was his thing that made him want in on the New Directions action, what made him stick his social neck out to hang with schlubs like them?

Obviously, it wasn't because he was a good person. Were he a good person, were he a secure person he would have said to hell with the world and worn his zombie makeup with pride. Dave would have danced in the musical without any (or minimal, lets be realistic) complaint. He wouldn't give a damn about what anyone else thought of him, he would have hung out with whoever he liked, whenever he liked, in whatever location he liked. That would be how good-person Dave Karofsky would have rolled.

But he wasn't.

He knew it, and they knew it, so there had to be something wrong. Something other than a sudden social one-eighty, an urge to hang out with good people because they were good people and not because-

Well, they knew it wasn't charity work, so it had to be something else.

Normally Dave wouldn't have given a damn, because no one listened to the glee kids. No one cared about their problems, no one paid attention to their drama. They were their own microcosm of miniscule proportions, only to be studied for entertainment purposes. If you needed a good pick-me-up just look at the glee kids and see? Wasn't your life so much more awesome? Obviously yes, look at how lucky you are. You are the luckiest son-of-gun that will ever come into existence, now stop complaining and live your dreams like the magical rainbow monkey you are.

That was...that wasn't all him. That was just stuff he'd heard, in the hallway. Bits and pieces.

Point was, even if the glee kids did pick up on something, the odds of anyone else caring about it were slim to none. It would just be a wild, overdramatic accusation. Like how Dave had threatened to kill Kurt last year and how some of them wanted to get married or whatever. Out of proportion. Nobody cared.

The only way they could screw Dave over was if they could provide undeniable evidence of whatever his unknown issue was.

But that was kind of the problem.

Because Dave just maybe, hypothetically had feelings for one Sam Evans. Which was just…unfortunate really, because it was Sam Evans and the guy wasn't…he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, you could say. And that was the nicest way of saying it because Sam, dear God Sam was just so dumb, but somehow-

Apparently that was a thing for Dave, because he found it remarkably adorable every time Sam opened up his mouth to unload his newest most outlandish/inaccurate/confounding/just…dumb thing to have ever been said float into existence caused Dave to fight the urge to sweep him into a hug and never let his slightly-below-average brain go because it needed to be protected damn it. That childish innocence and stubbornness and the pouting, dear lord the pouting was giving him high blood pressure because teenage boys should not look like that, they shouldn't be allowed to be that cute it wasn't fair-

So Dave had this thing for Sam. And Sam, who apparently couldn't hold a grudge if there was a gun to his head, had very gleefully latched onto the idea that Dave was his new best friend. On top of Mike, because Mike went without saying. Because now when Mike was busy with the boyfriend and girlfriend situation, Sam would just call Dave up to do things. Or sometimes he just called Dave first and Dave, for the life of him, could not say no. He couldn't.

Because Sam knew his deepest-darkest secret and honest to God did not care. If it was possible to care less, if there could be negative caring, Sam Evans would have achieved it. Because for him hey, there was a missing piece, and without that missing piece Karofsky was just mean and bitter and a bully but then with that piece in place Sam got it (which was stupid because he was stupid and still had issues with tying his shoes for Christ's sake).  He understood the why and didn't hold it against Dave, which just added to the ever-growing mystery of why the glee kids weren't more bitter and angrier than they should be, how they could still be so nice and accepting when the world had dished them out nothing but crap for no real obvious reason other than someone had to get the short end of the stick and they had been outvoted.

So Sam knew and Sam didn't care, and Sam knew and Sam didn't treat Dave any differently than he treated Mike or Finn or any of those other glee dorks. It was just - poof - Dave was one of them now, and if Dave was one of them then it was obviously okay to invite him over for video games or movie marathons or jogging or to test out his impressions or dance moves or whatever with him, because Dave had been okayed. Just like that.

It was honestly that simple.

It was that simplicity and that stupidity and Dave’s own dopiness and it didn't hurt that Sam was easy on the eyes and had a big heart and- well, Dave had spent way too much time thinking about it, but when it was all said and done and he had nothing to show for it but a stunning migraine and some unintelligible doodles that had been scribbled over and subsequently burned, Dave figured, to save himself the headache, that considering all the things that had happened it was reasonable for him to feel this way.

Give him a few days; give him a couple of weeks or maybe a month and the magic would go away. The honeymoon phase of their friendship would come to an end and he would just be regular ole' Sam Evans again. Stupid and a minor nuisance but a good and reliable friend, emphasis on the friend part, who Dave could spend time with until the year ended and he graduated and got on with his life with a football scholarship and new opportunities waiting ahead, finding a place where same sex relationships were a standard and hunker down there without fear of getting the shit kicked out of him.

The way he saw it, this was a pretty solid plan.

But then Sam had to ahead and be stupid Sam Evans, and Dave figured out he was utterly, utterly screwed.

This was not a phase. This was not a mild infatuation. This was not his brain's need to keep itself occupied by focusing on the every move of a single person.

This was him, David Karofsky, having feelings for Sam freakin’ Evans.

And this was Sam Evans being his usual air-headed self, and being impressively unaware of this fact.

Not that other people weren't.

Which was kind've the problem.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Santana figured it out first, though in Dave's defense, Santana had been on the up-and-up way before Dave had been comfortable with admitting any sort of attraction to the same sex out loud. It had been one careless glance towards Sam's posterior that had gotten him called out in the first place and that was before, you know, the feelings, so it wasn't like Dave ever had much of a shot for hiding it from someone who knew what to look for.

Though it was a relief that she turned out to be a real bro about it.

"He know about your rainbow flag?" were the first words out of her mouth, and no (okay yes, undeniably yes), Dave hadn't known she was behind him and let out a surprised gasp as he was waiting, very nonchalantly, for Sam to finish…whatever it was he finished on Tuesday s before they went to the library to study (because Dave wouldn't let Sam fail his classes, he needed to keep his eligibility if he wanted to compete in that glee club thing).

To her credit, Santana's raised eyebrow was only slightly mocking when Dave turned to face her, hands clutching his backpack tightly to avoid grasping at his chest where his heart beat like, a thousand miles a minute.

Jesus, she didn't need to sneak up on him. Or talk about that. Like, ever.

"Will you chill out?" Santana said, eyes rolling in a perfectly practiced motion before zeroing in on him again, serious. "The only people who know are the ones you've told and/or the one's who managed to fight through their own fog of self importance to notice you ogling sugar lip's ass. And considering how terrible most of their observational skills are that seems to be limited towards just myself and probably Kurt. And see, Kurt's going to do the nice thing and give you space and distance so you can sort things out for yourself and blah-blah-blah, let's get to the point." She shoved a finger at his chest, perfectly manicured nail tapping against his sternum. "Does. He. Know?"

Dave gave a jerked nod in reply, because talking right now, especially about that, he wasn’t so good at it and Santana kind've scared him, just a little, because she really hadn't been lying about the knives she had hidden in her hair, he had seen her take them out to cut apple slices for Brittney.

She studied him, eyes narrowed before shrugging and rolling her weight back on her heels. "Figured as much. That whole Mike/Puck intervention group seemed a little too chummy not to."

But just to clarify, even if she already knew (because she knew things okay? It was weird but it was what she did) Dave spoke. "But he doesn't know about the-"

"Ass ogling?" she supplied and he choked, checking over his shoulder for Sam and immediately flooding with relief when he saw the lack of blond in the distance.

Santana gave a sigh that could be described as impatient and rolled her eyes again, stepping forward into Dave's personal bubble to stare him down, despite actually being shorter than him. "Alright, so here's what's going to happen David the reformed. I'm going to go ahead and give you the benefit of the doubt here. You see guy, you want guy, and we're all going to assume that you want the guy to be happy so you're not going to do anything that might have some kind of negative backlash with him, right?" She stepped closer, cocking her head to the side with a smile that promised retribution if needed, threats lurking behind her eyes. "Right. Your…pursuing is not going to hurt one hair on his emotionally inexperienced head. You will be a proper gentleman. You will take care that both his and your reputation stay intact, what little of those there is, and yes, yours comes second, let's just be clear on that."

"What are you-?" Dave began to ask because his face was heating up, eye twitching, though part of him was comforted in the fact that someone was standing up for Sam, and the young Latina cut him off.

"What I'm saying," she declared, emphasizing the word with a deceivingly jaunty tilt of her head. "Is that Sam Evans is like a baby bird. A particularly stupid, incompetent baby bird, but a tiny chickadee nonetheless. You will exercise the most delicate of care when handling him. You will be nice, you will not force, you will not intimidate and you will not trick my boy Sam into doing anything he feels just the slightest bit uncomfortable with, or I will rain down the kinds of hell that you would never wish upon your worst enemy, the kinds of hell that make you make the fire-burning, gut-starving, flesh-peeling kind of hells seem like an oasis of happiness and sunshine in comparison." Dave gulped and she glared up at him, drawing out the pause for dramatic effect. "What I'm saying is that you have my full permission to chase after my Sammy-boy, but if you hurt him-"

"Rain down hells. Yes, I got it." The words rushed out of Dave's mouth, he really did not want to hear the details again and Santana took a step back, pleased smile plastered on her face.

"Good, I'm glad we have an understanding," she said, and then her tone changed from pleasant-threatening to pleasant-snarky. "So if you ever need a wingman, I've got your back D."

And with that declaration she gave his shoulder a few comforting pats and sashayed off; just as Sam made his way around the corner, trying to shove books haphazardly into his backpack and walk at the same time, doing neither one all too successfully.

"Here," Dave sighed, almost surprised at how quickly he shook off the tension from Santana's speech to taking care of Sam, relaxing and becoming semi-leader again. "You know if you just focused on one thing at a time-"

"Yeah," Sam replied, running a hand through his hair bashfully, easy smile on his face. "But I didn't want to keep you waiting so-"

"Yeah, yeah." Dave answered, keeping his eyes focused on Sam's backpack because that shouldn't mean as much to him as it did. "Well, let's get going."

"Aye, aye Captain!" Sam cheered, clapping a hand against Dave's arm as he re-shouldered his backpack, mouth immediately going a mile a minute as they made their way towards the library.

Yeah, Dave was screwed.

But hell, at least he was happy.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Santana didn't tell the other gleeks about her warning, but her ultimatum had somehow become common knowledge to them anyway. And by this, Dave meant it had become common knowledge to the New Directions kids that mattered, like Mike and Tina and the intervention company, Finn excluded. Zizes, oddly enough, had already come by and thrown her support behind him (should Dave be weirded out that all of his wingmen were like, the scariest chicks he knew? That said something about him as a person, he just wasn't sure what), offering her services for whenever necessary. Quinn had deigned him with an approving nod, not bothering to do anything else (not that he would have needed it, but-).

Of course, this also meant that the more…enthusiastic members of that group were trying to do a little "helping" of their own.

Dave could have sworn he saw Kurt and Mike scrutinizing what had to be very elaborate plans splayed across the choir room floor, but whenever Dave had dared to get near and check them out Mike had fumbled to hide them while Kurt just plastered on a totally-innocent look that nobody was buying.

When Dave went to Puck and Blaine for the details (because somebody had to know) Blaine had simply shrugged, lips sealed from…whatever they were planning, and Tina had dragged Puck away before he could spill the beans because honestly, Puck didn't care. Or he sympathized with Dave. Or he was upset his new boy-toy was busy playing mastermind with Kurt. Either way Tina was guarding him like an overprotective jaguar, throwing around some serious looks of disapproval and remand whenever Dave drew near. He was…honestly surprised by the amount of expression such a tiny person could exude.

So he laid off Puck. And Tina. And avoided Kurt and Mike like the plague and accepted Blaine's supportive arm pats when no one was looking (which, he got it, that was something he was going to have to work on if he wanted anywhere near Sam) and Santana and Lauren's fist bumps and Brittany's stickers. No, he didn't know what they were for, but they were scratch-and-sniff and Sam liked them so Dave figured her contribution was probably the best out of everyone's.

The biggest problem Dave was having with the whole Sam-situation was trying to figure out if the guy would even be willing to go on a date with him. Dave feared if he just went out and asked Sam he would get shot down so fast that even that Israel kid would feel good about himself; so obviously the direct approach was out the window. Sam was easy going but he wasn't that easy going. He was a member of the God Squad for Christ's sake, the blond was dumb but surely some of those rules had been engrained in his head.

Which left Dave with the more difficult approach, aka, stealth wooing.

He figured if he spent enough time with Sam he could ever-so-slowly start flirting, beginning in very tiny, almost undetectable increments before gradually raising the bar, engaging Sam in full-on flirting before the blond even realized it.

Were it anyone else Dave would have deemed his plan entirely too stupid to put into consideration and given up on the idea then and there.

But it was Sam. And Sam took a hint as well as he picked up on social cues. As in, he didn't. So Dave was pretty sure he could get some mutual affection going down before Sam even realized it and then, as he would have ninja'd his was into Sam's graces, there wouldn't be any conceivable reason for Sam not to date Dave.

It was brilliant.

…okay, it was stupid, but it was all Dave had to work with so he would just have to manage.

The first step was to spend more time with Sam, without broadcasting it towards the rest of the school. This was mostly to avoid calling undue attention to Sam as opposed to Dave worrying about his reputation. With a combined status of football player/ junior prom king he could pretty much hang out with whoever he wanted and not be questioned for it. People would probably think he was pitying the blond or something, if anything. But that didn't mean they wouldn't notice, and if they noticed they might go after Sam and Dave didn't want that, there were already too many looks as it was. Azimio was buying Dave’s Good Samaritan spiel with tutoring Sam, but even he was starting to ask questions.

And besides that, with all the time they spent together already it was difficult trying to think of something new to help with the whole bonding process.

Dave made it a point not to go to Kurt and Mike on this one, he was a big boy, he would figure it out. Or, to be more precise, Sam would figure it out. In that he read one too many comic books and decided their "crime fighting abilities" should totally be applied to an old-fashioned detective agency. Solving crimes both in and out of the school, whoever asked, they would aid.

And that was how Dave knew this Sam-thing was definitely permanent. Because he couldn't shoot the blond down. He wanted to do it. He wanted to make an old-fashioned detective agency thing happen.

So Dave had about…what, two days to throw together a fake case while Sam distracted himself with making them fake detective badges and inventing cool back stories because if Sam didn't get a case Dave had a feeling he would go out and find one. Which was how Dave became the mastermind behind a live-reenactment of Clue, recruiting Kurt and Mike (begrudgingly) to stage "evidence" and coming up with a mystery that would adequately soothe Sam's need for adventure.

Dave wasn't surprised when it grew. He wasn't surprised that it got out of hand, or that there was a dance number, or that his "mum's the word" rule had been completely disregarded.

He was surprised that it worked.

So there was something.

Chapter Text

Kurt had raised one carefully groomed eyebrow at Dave; a mock-dubious expression on his face that the football player knew was a cover for immense feelings of smugness. Kurt's hands were clasped above of his chest, elbows resting on the table in front of him for looks alone, no stability necessary because of his perfect posture, his expression reminiscent of a cat catching its prey.

This professional yet celebratory elegance was slightly put-off due to Mike's frantic movements behind Kurt, shoving papers and markers into his backpack carelessly (it was that disorganized method that had led to Dave's serendipitous pamphlet discovery all those weeks ago, you would think the dancer would learn to be more careful).

Dave stared at Kurt, doing his best to convey "Get real, I know what you're up to" and "I sort of want to use your evils to my advantage" with his eyes so he wouldn’t actually have to, you know, say it.

In front of him, Kurt raised his other eyebrow, refusing to submit, not at least without oral confirmation, because that was his loophole. Behind him Mike yanked a folder out of his backpack and let out a startled curse, papers exploding everywhere.

The depressed look the danger got on his face was almost enough for Dave to break his staring contest with Kurt. Almost.

Dave had bigger fishes to fry.

"Kurt," he said, tersely.

"Dave," Kurt replied, tone perfectly charming and calm which was impressive in itself, considering the amount of mad scrambling Mike was doing behind him, trying to gather up every piece of loose paper all in one go and failing miserably. Or at least, that was what Dave had discerned from his peripherals. His eyes were still on Kurt's.

"So…" he began, letting it hang there, and Kurt raised an eyebrow.

"So?"

"You're scheming," Dave declared, then watched carefully for a reaction.

He got none.

Kurt looked dubious. "I'm scheming?" he asked, tone implying something along the lines of "Can you believe this guy? Such tall tales he spins."

Dave frowned. "I apologize," he tried again, refusing to let Kurt deter him. "You're both scheming."

Kurt gave him another stupidly smug smile because he wasn't going to admit anything until Dave told him what they were scheming about.

The smile widened. "Well now you're just talking nonsense."

There was a sound of paper sliding across the floor followed by a definite "thump" and out of the corner of his eye Dave could see Mike fall to the ground face first, an armful of papers becoming airborne once more and cascading outwards to un-papered parts of the classroom. Were Dave looking at Mike he would have seen him rubbing at his face and making a depressed sound. But Dave was not looking at Mike. Dave had other things to do.

Dave stared at Kurt.

Kurt stared at Dave.

In the background Mike started to make a pathetic whimpering noise.

Dave broke eye contact first.

"Jesus Christ Mike-"

"I'm not good at this!" Mike's complained, throwing a hand out to gesture to the mess around him while he stared at it morosely. "Does this seem like the type of thing I would be good at?"

Dave shrugged his shoulders. "Honestly, no."

Was the mess growing? It looked like it had spread. Dave wouldn't be surprised if Mike had managed that. He was the sort of guy who was great at finagling the improbable into existence. But as Kurt already knew this, that begged the question why he bothered recruiting Mike to help out in the first place.

Kurt caught on to Dave’s questioning look and shrugged. "What he lacks in subtlety he makes up for in enthusiasm."

"I have skills," Mike protested, shaking a fist at them before Kurt turned and gave the dancer a pointed look, which immediately shut him up. Mike dropped his fist to the floor, prodding sadly at some of the abandoned papers.

Dave rolled his eyes. "Here just-" he began, picking up an armful of papers- holy hell they really were multiplying. "Let me help."

"No!" Mike yelled, and Dave had enough experience with frantic-Mike to dodge the tackle that was thrown at him; the dancer rushing right past him before tripping over a desk and collapsing onto the floor.

Dave sighed and gave Kurt a patient look. "You okay Mike?" he asked, calling over his shoulder as he moved to pick up some more discarded papers.

A shaky fist popped up from the other side of the desk. "I have skills," Mike declared stubbornly, despite the small waver in his voice. "…ow."

For the first time since the meeting began, Kurt dropped his poker face, giving a sigh of his own. "That's what happens when you overreact," he lectured, helpfully pushing some papers closer towards Dave with his foot.

"Says the guy who breaks into 'Rose's Turn' every time he loses an argument."

"What was that?" Kurt asked, tone sharp as he whipped his head around to glare at desk Mike was hiding behind.

There was a distinct fearful pause.

"…nothing," Mike eventually admitted. "I said nothing. No words were said." There was a painful, drawn-out exhale. "Now I'm just…going to stay on the floor until Puck shows up." Another wheeze. "If he remembers this time."

"I texted him," Kurt informed floor-bound teen, increasing his helpfulness by standing and nudging the outlying papers towards the center of the room. "But as that is probably doomed to fail, I also texted Tina, so you're good."

"Awesome," Mike said, giving Kurt an appreciative thumbs up before the arm collapsed back down again.

Dave wondered if he should start to be more concerned than he actually was. Or, he was concerned, but maybe he should actually like, begin to show it.

Kurt waved him off, as though he could hear what Dave was thinking. "He'll be fine; he's certainly gone through worse. Now," Kurt turned to face Dave straight on, hands positioned on his hips and adopting a look of no-nonsense. "What exactly can we do for you?"

Dave, to his credit, did not allow Kurt to stare him down and went along with the game, shrugging. "What you were already planning to do."

And up went that eyebrow again. "And that was…?"

"Is this about the fake detective agency thing?" Mike asked, still on the floor and thankfully sheltered behind a desk so he was unable to witness the look of pure venom Kurt threw his way. Dave figured this was Mike's attempt to have his back.

It felt so good to send his own look of validated smugness Kurt's way. "Yes Mike," Dave replied, eyes fixed on Kurt as the smile grew across his face. "That is exactly what this is about."

Mike sounded genuinely relieved when he replied. And winded. But mostly relieved.

"Oh good," he wheezed. "That's what most of those papers are about anyway."

Dave was in the middle of giving the paper in his hand a dubious once over just as Mike amended. "Or doodles of Puck. It's kind of fifty-fifty."

"I can see that," Dave declared, studying the drawing in his hands very carefully.

Kurt scoffed, giving some of the doodles a look of disdain. "You think with the amount of practice he puts into it he would get beyond stick figures."

"Don't mess with the classics man!" Mike protested, slowly starting to sit up. "If it ain't broke…"

"Fix it, dear lord fix it," Kurt mumbled. He probably wanted to take it back after the hurt look Mike sent him (Mike sort of took the wounded puppy eyes to a whole new level) and Kurt's disposition turned apologetic; he leaned across the desk and ruffled Mike's hair. Which, for some reason, was one of Mike's favorite things. Kurt was instantly forgiven.

Taking in the scene, Dave had to shake out of that feeling of fondness he had especially reserved for Mike. Mike had been first. Even if he had never been Dave's, he had always been first, and sometimes that fact hit Dave harder than it did others.

Mid-ruffle Kurt sent him a knowing look, because he was a freakin' psychic.

Dave glowered.

Focus.

"Look," Dave began, setting the stack of papers down on Kurt's original desk. "I just need you to say you lost something in the locker room. I'll plant some clues there, they'll lead to other clues and we'll just keep going until Sam gets bored with this or whatever."

And how was that for holding the cards to his chest?

Kurt's hand paused it's movements through Mike's hair, earning a small sound of protest that was tempered by a warning tap from Kurt, Mike immediately silenced.

"And that's the only reason why?" Kurt asked, and Dave was beset by two completely different sets of eyes, one all-knowing and down to business, the other imploring and kind, because they were all friends here and they had all survived through some pretty drastic ordeals so-

But Dave…he wanted to try this one on his own. He knew they knew. They knew he knew they…well, knew. And if the only thing keeping him back was coming out and saying "Dear lord, I wants to date me some Sam Evans and have epically rainbowtastic make-out times with him and have permanent claim to those guppy lips" (Santana, Dave had…yeah, he'd spending a lot of time with her) then so be it because if he could say that, without worrying it was all going to fall down around him, he would.

But he wasn't. All he had was the barest of maybes and even that was a long shot.

With Puck and Mike…well, they had all sort have known. Everyone else had seen that. Dave had even seen that and at the time he couldn't have given two shits, it was just sort of one of those facts you knew. Like how the grass was green and you need air to breathe, you just knew that Puck and Mike were heads-over-the-moon in love with each other, and it didn't really register, it was just an established fact. And you don't get mad at established facts, you couldn't change them, you could only accept them as they are and go with the flow. No point in getting worked up over it.

But Dave didn't have any of that. He was playing on the knife's edge, hanging out with Sam enough to maybe be intimate with him but not so serious that he could pull back if Sam cried foul. And the thought that…well, Dave hated the idea of it, but shit didn't always work out like a goddamn movie. This was life. And life was messy and stupid and chaotic and everybody didn't get to win, so Dave would just have to make do.

He wanted to handle this one on his own, exercise his own judgment and sure, if he turned out to be an even more hopeless than Mike had been then Dave was on board with some backup. He would reserve that as the emergency backup plan. But until then…

That was how Dave was able to give those eyes a nonchalant shrug (really seemed to be doing a lot of that today) and reply tersely. "The only reason you get to know."

Mike's reaction was bigger, physically pulling back from him and giving a hurt look. "Dave."

The football player sighed and held up his hands, placating. "Guys, I've got this one." He gave them both leveling looks, mildly pleading, "Seriously."

There was a short staring contest between him and Kurt, the other teen studying him carefully, chin held in his hand as he thought. Eventually he rolled his eyes and waved a hand at him. "Alright, fine. We'll leave it to you."

And Dave didn't quite chirp back, because he was David Karofsky and he did not chirp, but there was a certain tone of graciousness whenever he replied, "Thanks."

Kurt knew what he wanted. Mike probably knew too, or would figure it out later, or Kurt would just tell him (which was the most probable option as Kurt gossiped like there was no freakin' tomorrow and Dave was surprised he had held up as well as he did.)

Kurt gave him a serious look, crossing him arms. "But if you ever need help…"

Dave smiled. "Yeah, you'll be my wingmen."

Mike, having finally deemed the floor an uncomfortable place to be, finally stood up, popping his back as he sent Dave a cheeky smile. "We were thinking more like cohorts."

Dave shrugged, for what he swore was the last time. That day.

"Whatever works."

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam was chewing on his bottom lip, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he took down Mike's statement, pencil traveling across the front of his notepad in a speedy, haphazard fashion.

"So you lost your…?" he gestured at Mike to fill in the blank.

"Choreography notebook," the dancer replied eagerly, sending Dave a sly wink that Sam thankfully missed. Beside him Kurt rolled his eyes, doing a poor job of "emotionally supporting" Mike, despite that being the supposed reason for his presence.

"Cho-re-o-grap-y. Note-book," Sam echoed, sounding out the words as he jotted them down. He finished with a mad flourish, thumping the pencil against the front of his notepad as though ending a sentence, and looked up at Mike seriously, thoughtful expression on his face. "What did it look like?"

"Red," Mike answered, listing off the attributes of a notebook that didn't necessarily exist. It was all for the best, they decided. It was easier to hide a thing that had no chances of being found. "70 pages; dinosaur drawing on the front."

"What kind of dinosaur?" Sam asked, not looking up from his notes.

Mike looked between Kurt and Dave. They hadn't really decided on details. "Uh…T-Rex?"

Sam paused at the hesitation, giving the victim-in-question a suspicious look, which cued a rushed answer from Mike. "Or a Velociraptor! I'm not sure, Puck drew it."

He gave a big smile on the completion of his explanation, just a little too cheerful for someone who had been stolen from, but Sam didn't pick up on it. The blond shrugged, nodding like that was a legitimate excuse (and it was; Puck's way of staking claim to Mike revolved around doodling over most of the things he owned. The behavior was pretty much limited to the dancer as Tina would "Not put up with that shit, it is not as endearing as you think it is. Seriously Puck.").

Mike let out a quiet sigh; crisis avoided, and sent Dave a cheeky smile.

So far, so good.

"You would think," Sam began, quiet laugh tumbling past his lips as he finished up a rough sketch of the 'missing' notebook. "With all the practice he does, he would be better at that."

"Tell me about it," Kurt mumbled, glancing off to the side and giving out a small "umf" whenever Mike elbowed him in the stomach, never taking his eyes off Sam.

"I have not idea what you're talking about," Mike replied enthusiastically, forcing a manic smile onto his face to cover up his overprotective tendencies in all things that regarded his boyfriend.

Luckily Sam just waved him off, deciding that super defensive Mike was not a being he wished to do verbal battle with, and moved on, tapping the notepad in his hands. "Okay, whatever. So the notebook was taken from your locker?"

Mike was still trapped in hyper-tense you-will-say-no-bad-things-of-my-man land so Kurt had to elbow him back into the present, forcing the teen to let out a startled gasp. Mike followed this with a glare to Kurt and looked back at Sam, shoving his hand into his back pocket to root around for something.

"Yes!" Mike declared, a little too enthusiastically. "Yes, it was taken from my locker which was why we are here, in the locker room, where my locker is, and-" he shoved a crinkled up piece of paper into Sam's chest, nodding seriously. "That is an inventory of all the stuff in my locker as of now. I mean," he continued, Sam giving him a perfectly baffled look. "Now that I've taken my backpack and homework out of it and stuff."

Sam continued to stare at Mike as though he were a crazy person. Which wasn't, actually, that far off base.

Mike struggled not to make this look like the most obviously staged thing ever and failed, beginning to fidget helplessly. "So if you want to inspect my locker, for clues and stuff, that's a list of the stuff that should be in there."

The dancer looked back towards Sam, the blond still sporting a mildly pained look on his face. There were dots there, he could see them, he was simply unable to connect them. Dave shared a quick look with Kurt who was, most likely, wondering how this whole thing hadn't fallen apart by this point, and motioned to Mike's locker.

"Perhaps," he started and never had Sam looked more relieved for his interference, getting his 'Oh good, Dave will light the way' look that Dave had to convince himself wasn't strictly exclusive to him but secretly wished it was, that he was the only one who got that particular facial expression, and then he cleared his throat, reminding himself not to be such a damn girl when they had shit to do. "What Mike means is that if there are things in his locker that aren't his…"

He lets it trail off, giving Sam a meaningful look, and he could see the light bulb finally turn on, huge smile spreading across his face.

"That they're clues," he finished, clapping a hand on Dave's shoulder because he was proud of their teamwork. They shared a quiet moment, giving each other the two goofiest smiles ever (Dave couldn't help it, he just couldn't sometimes) and Kurt ruined it, clearing his throat and bringing Dave back into reality, reminding him he had a certain blond to corral.

"So we'll leave this to you two," Kurt decreed, covering up his amusement and giving Dave a knowing look. He grabbed Mike's arm gently, beginning to herd him out of the mostly-empty locker room. "Just send us a text if you find anything out!" he called over his shoulder, and with that Dave and Sam were left alone, standing in front of Mike's open locker.

Sam grinned cheerfully, shoving his notepad back into his backpack and rooting around for a camera he did not, in fact, have. It only took him a few minutes to realize this but by then Dave had his camera out and waiting in his hand, giving it over to the enthusiastic blond with no argument. The other teen smiled some more, immensely pleased with this turn of events, and zeroed in on the locker, snapping what was assuredly going to be far too many pictures.

Eventually Sam would find the crumpled up tickets to a community theater production of Beauty and the Beast Dave had planted at the bottom of the locker (it wasn’t like Dave had gotten them for him and Sam or anything, and then totally chickened out at the last second.  Nope, it wasn't like that at all).

Dave would give him ten minutes before he interceded. Until then, might as well let Sam have a good time.

Out of the corner of his eye Dave caught a movement by the locker room's entrance, nothing major, and he glanced over at it habitually, just to take stock of whoever was entering to know if any counter-measures would need to be exercised. If it was one of the glee kids, he would be fine. If it was an underclassmen, also fine, most of them were too scared to go anywhere near him. Any upperclassmen he would have to threaten or establish dominance with threatening eye contact (he practiced with Santana and Zizes sometimes, it was fun. Scary, but fun). Dave figured out of all the options it would most likely be a glee kid wanting to see "Sam & Dave's Detective Agency" in action for a few laughs. Dave couldn't blame them, it was easy entertainment.

Dave was right, in a way. It was a glee kid, it just- it wasn't any of the guys. And it certainly wasn't any of the girls he would have pictured finding this scene particularly hysterical.

There, hovering in the doorway was one Rachel Berry, staring at him with somehow disproportionately wide eyes, like they were larger than someone her size should be able to have. He glanced at her quickly, took a moment to process that he had indeed taken in the image of the Rachel Berry Sam was always telling stories about, noted her clothes weren't quite as horrible as Santana talked them up to be, then glanced back again to see if she had moved.

She was in the exact same position he had seen her in five seconds before, still peeking around the doorframe, eyes zeroed-in on all things Karofsky.

Dave was beginning to understand why Kurt used the phrase "manic intensity" to describe the short-statured Jewish girl.

He turned away quickly, though he knew she had seen him, and caught up on Sam's progress, the blond now moving out of the "take pictures" stage and onto the "measure/smell/inspect-very-closely" stage of locker clue-finding. Dave figured he had at least five minutes before he actually got to bagging any evidence, so he turned back towards Berry, giving her a long stare-down that hopefully said something along the lines of "I can do what I want so back off" without being overly aggressive about it. The last thing he wanted was for Hudson to get on his case for freaking out his girlfriend. Dave wanted submission, not fear of bodily harm.

Her expression didn't change any, nor did her posture. It was like she was perpetually stuck in doorway limbo, living part of her life in the hallway and forever gazing into the locker room for answers to mysteries she couldn't hope to comprehend.

Dave sent her an irritated look.

She did nothing.

Dave raised his eyebrows, going so far as to open himself up for questions.

She continued to do nothing.

Dave sort of wanted to throw a shoe at her, just to see if he could ruin the established pattern.

In the seconds he took to fight this urge (and feel bad about it, because throwing shoes at girls was never polite), Rachel did nothing.

It was a very productive couple of seconds.

Just as he was about to chalk up this exchange as the furthest he would get in his dealings with Rachel Berry, the girl stirred, finally done with her reconnaissance, and frantically waved him over. She was gnawing at her bottom lip, worry clearly written across her features, which was the only reason Dave decided to see what she had to say. Had he been dealing with her "bottomless pits of unmatchable bossy-ness" (Sam's words), Dave wouldn't have consented. He didn't need to justify his actions to anyone.

But she was here, and he had time to kill, and she would probably stalk him with that creepy wide-eyed look if he didn't appease her curiosities at some point, so he might as well get it over with now.

When he drew close she motioned him into the hallway, making a show of checking for other occupants which was…well, it was nice. Now Dave didn't have to. He could just sit back, listen to some concerned spiel and-

He was being dragged down the hallway, he noted absently, still in disbelief that such a tiny, delicate looking person could latch onto his arm with such unyielding determination. She steered them into an empty classroom just as Dave tried to shake her off, still baffled by this newest turn of events.

He collected himself in time to remember he would normally be upset by any manhandling and glared at the petite girl, making an effort not to cross his arms because Rachel Berry couldn't make him defensive. "What the hell Berry-?"

"What are you doing?" she whispered, as though they were still in the locker room and had to worry about Sam being just five feet from them.

Dave glowered at her; he knew the appropriate response to this one. "What I want, and I don't need permission-"

She glared right back at him, hands propped on her hips as she gave him a look of righteous fury. "You don't need permission to run somebody out of school but that doesn't mean you should do it!"

It hit like a physical blow, his lungs seizing in his chest (he had apologized, he knew that wasn't enough but he apologized-) and it took a second before he remembered to breathe, that he needed to do that, and he felt his glare falter, though he pressed on. It was Rachel Berry. Rachel Berry couldn't hurt him.

She charged onward, words spilling out of her mouth in a nonstop stream Sam had often tried to emulate. "Look, I don't know why you're doing what you're doing and I don't know why everyone else is just standing around like they're okay with it and I want you to know," she breathed and took a moment to steady herself, then looked him straight in the eye. "I want you to know that I'm glad you're doing it."

Dave had his mouth open, some condescending, insincere retort posed on his tongue, and he had to stop to process it, closing his mouth to just stare at her.

Berry actually started fidgeting, though it was very mild, her confidence only vaguely wavering. "I know I-" she cut off, then looked at him again, brown eyes searching. "I know we're weird, and I know people don't like to get near us and I don't want to freak you out but what you're doing with Sam…" She titled her head to the side, allowing a small, charming smile. "It's really nice. And I didn't really believe it when you said you turned over a new leaf, even after Kurt and Santana vouched for you, but I'd like to thank you, even though it's weird," her eyes lowered at the qualification because to her he was just another mindless crowd-follower, and feelings and looking deeper weren't in his nature. "For being friends with Sam."

There was a short silence where Dave didn't now how to respond, hadn't seen this coming, not after all the stories of how self-centered Rachel was, about the ego and the drive and the bluntness. Eventually Rachel started talking again, fiddling with a gold ring on her finger.

"I know we bring people down," she said. "I mean, the glee club. Finn and Quinn were the most popular kids in school and they still got slushied because of us." She twisted the ring some more. "Because of me," she added quietly.

They had another quiet lull but it wasn't uncomfortable because Dave knew he didn't have to say anything at all, the only thing he had to do this time was listen, and Dave could handle that.

Sure enough, her head snapped up a second later, determination fierce in her eyes. "But you can do whatever you want and no one will question it and you probably don't know it but you keep Sam safe from the bullying, even if he's in glee club, just by being there. You protect him."

She sighed and closed her eyes, squeezing her hands together like she was focusing on this one big thing. Eventually she glanced up at him through her eyelashes, gradually staring at him, head held high and proud. "So what I'm asking you is to please keep protecting him. I know it might not mean a lot to you but-" She shrugged her shoulders, finishing quietly, "Some of us should be safe."

He stared at her, so…it was bizarre, and he wanted to yell that of course he knew about all the shit he warded away from Sam Evans, he knew that his presence was a shield, and he never took that responsibility for granted. It had been one of the things Dave hated when his world had been about Mike, that despite how genuinely good he was and how non-conflicting and how the dancer was just all around kind and decent he still got treated like shit while guys like Dave, the ones that shoved kids into lockers and dumped slushies on their favorite clothes and brought bring them down because somebody had to be brought down, they were praised. They were safe because they were the attackers.

That shouldn't be right. He knew that was a stupid thing to harp on because it would never change, but it shouldn't be right.

It occurred to Dave that what Berry was doing right now was a huge risk for her. That she had spouted out her words before letting him get in edgewise because for all she knew he was hanging out with Sam for laughs and the side effects of his company could easily be taken away. That her commenting on it could take it all away, simply for being a bigger heart-to-heart than most teenage boys would consider putting up with.

He wondered if this was what it was like to be in glee club all the time. That this was the kind of real, meaningful conversations that they had.

Based on his past interactions with Kurt, with Blaine and Mike and Santana, he was willing to say it was.

It was no wonder then, that Hudson refused to leave them. Once you got sucked in, it was difficult to sacrifice a group of people like that.

…even if it was filled with the 'specialist, unique shining stars'.

Dave nodded slowly, trying to show that he knew, that he couldn't completely give up how he acted but he knew what she meant.

"I will," he promised, holding that brown-eyed gaze with his own. "Sam's my friend."

Rachel blinked, clearly surprised his answer was lacking in insults and nodded, mostly to herself, he thought, like she was processing what he said.

"Okay then," she murmured, swallowing. She gave him a meaningful look, like she wanted to study him further but didn't want to push her luck, and smoothed her hands on the front of her dress, moving to walk out the door.

Trying not to take up anymore of his time than she had to.

It was, unmistakably, sad. Dave found that he wanted to hug her, even after all the stories Sam had told him.

But there were limits and rules and he had a feeling that while she was willing to be open minded she was still too wary to accept a hug, so he called out after her instead, hands fidgeting with the side of his jeans.

"Listen Berry," he said, watching her whip back around just as she made it to the door. "You're not so bad."

He had meant for it to be off-hand but sincere, because…well, she wasn't that bad, and anyone who stood up for Sam, who stood up for her friends, was good in Dave's book.

It started off small, tentative, but eventually a huge, true smile broke across Rachel's face. There was the barest possibility of teary eyes as well, so Dave decided to look at the floor instead. Plausible deniability and all that.

He shrugged, would later claim he was uncomfortable to cover up a sudden wave of bashfulness. "Tell anyone I said that…"

"Mums the word," Rachel chirped back happily, mimicking a zipping motion across her lips, and Dave glowered.

"Seriously," he said. "Not even Hudson."

"I can keep a secret," Rachel urged, hands moving to her hips. The expression on his face must have clearly spoken of how little he believed that statement and Rachel burst out laughing, grinning at the taller teen. "You've been talking to Kurt, haven't you?" she asked, amusement dancing in her eyes.

"He's been talking to me," he explained, suddenly interested in his shoes. "I just haven't figured out to stop listening."

That earned him another trill of laughter, and when he looked up he could tell she was attempting to suppress her beaming, turning towards the door so that she was looking over her shoulder. "You're a better guy than you give yourself credit for David," she said, her smile turning a little sadder. "But I-" she held up a finger to her lips, winking. "Mums the word," she repeated.

With that she turned back towards the door, attempting to make her exit just the damn thing flew open, revealing a mildly perturbed Sam Evans.

The other two occupants were frozen in surprise, which was alright, because Sam felt like doing the talking anyway.

He pointed a wary finger at Rachel. "Kidnapping partners in crime? Not cool Rachel," he declared, squinting his eyes at her ludicrously. "Not. Cool."

"Sorry," the shorter girl replied, fondness unmistakable in her tone. "He's all yours now." She gave him a couple pats on the cheek as she walked past him and turned, sending Dave one last knowing look before disappearing out of sight entirely.

Sam watched after her, eyebrows furrowed in that confused expression he often wore, and Dave couldn't help but smile. It had, after all, been a very productive afternoon.

"What did she need?" Sam asked, hands fidgeting with the edge of his 'evidence bag'; two crumpled tickets inside.

"Just wanted to know if I was wasting your time," Dave didn't-quite lie. "As it turns out, I meet her approval."

"Awesome," Sam chirped, looking relieved. He smiled at Dave hesitantly. "I thought for sure she would have chewed you out or something."

And yeah, Dave's grin might have gotten dopey again, but he knew Sam would never judge him. "Nah, we're cool."

It was nice, Dave thought, that he was slowly but surely collecting this small group of indispensable friends. A guy could get used to that. With luck, there would be nothing to keep him from getting used to that.

But Dave wasn't a guy who relied on luck to get him through things.

He relied on planning. He relied on adapting. He would rely on working, because if he wanted to date Sam Evans, he would have to earn that privilege.

But Dave was willing to do that.

And riskier still, he was willing to hope for it.

On a wing and a prayer, he would hope.

Chapter Text

“The best way to go about this,” Kurt had explained in that quiet, authoritive tone he seemed so fond of, “is to keep the suspects and all clue-making limited to the glee club.”

“Right,” Dave agreed. “They’re pretty much the only ones who will be lenient when…” he trailed off, thinking for the right way to phrase this.

“When the accusations start flying?”

This suggestion was prompted from the ever-cheerful Mike, who was simply pleased he had wrangled Dave into his/Kurt’s/Quinn’s/everyone-in-glee-club’s scheming ways.

“That would be a good way of putting it,” Kurt decided, absently nodding in confirmation, mind already moving on to the next thing.  “Now the question is what do we plant?”

“Sheet music?” Mike proposed, fiddling with the straps of his backpack.  Between the three of them they had managed to wrangle all the loose strewn papers back into it in a semi-organized fashion, much to Mike’s protest.  The organization cramped his easy-going style.

He backed down after a couple threatening glares, and was currently keeping himself in the other two’s good graces by keeping his hands away from any of the zippers.

Kurt shook his head, sending Mike a warning look.  “Band kids use sheet music.”

“So does the jazz band,” Dave added.  This shouldn’t be this hard.  They had to keep it generic enough that they still had a sizable range of suspects, but specific enough that it screamed glee club.

“We could just use some of our sheet music,” Mike insisted, already beginning the dig through his backpack for his music notebook, ignoring the other teens displeased looks.

“But then it wouldn’t be that great a clue, now would it?” Kurt mused, lifting an eyebrow once Mike swiveled his confused face back towards them.  “It needs to be something that’s out of place.  Distinctly not yours.” He waved at the mass of papers shoved into Mike’s binder. “Sam’s more likely to think a piece of discarded sheet music is a result of your scatterbrained organization system, not something suspect.”

Mike paused, glowering at the other two teens for a second before he conceded to Kurt’s logic.  It made sense. 

Dave sighed.  “So we’re back at square one,” he groused, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling.

He should have known deep in his soul, and upon reviewing their past conversation he could see that Kurt was leading him and Mike along, governing them towards a particular goal.  Asking questions that he already had answers to and just wondering how long it would be before they saw the light and surrendered to his all-knowing craftiness.

Dave turned his gaze to the Broadway-loving teen and fixed him with a suspicious look.

And…yeah, there was that expression of all-consuming smugness they had all grown to know and love. 

Kurt raised an eyebrow at him.

“Just spill it,” Dave grumbled, leveling a finger at him.  What happened to nice, non-judgemental and not-pushy Kurt?  Dave sort’ve missed that guy.  He had less smarm about him (not that it wasn’t well earned or whatever, but-)

“We-eeell,” Kurt started, drawing out the vowel and appropriately capturing Mike’s attention (from where it had been tracing over one of Puck’s ninja doodles just seconds before).

There was a predatory glint in Kurt’s eye as he stared Dave down, smirk firmly in place.  “Do you still have those tickets I got for you?”

Which was a  rhetorical question, really.  It might as well have not been a question at all.  Kurt could have just said ‘Hey, remember all that time you wasted trying to pick out the perfect local outing for you and Sam? Remember that favor I did for you?  Remember those hours I spent listening to you argue the merits of a Disney musical vs a Kander and Ebb piece and demanding my input until you eventually decided on the one that would probably have the shinier costumes and then wasting all that effort (including my time and effort)  when you eventually chickened out?  And hey- you’re a sentimental guy right?  Sentimental about time and efforts wasted and moments of cowardice so yeah, I’m pretty sure you still have the tickets carefully hidden under a pile of papers in your second desk drawer, because that’s just the kind of guy you are.’

And then Dave would just say, “Yep,” and then go hide under his bed for fear of Kurt’s revenge.

But that wasn’t what Kurt had said, Dave had to reply to the question that was actually asked.

Though as luck would have it, the answer was pretty much the same anyway.

“Yep,” Dave replied, consciously not paying attention when that smirk turned devilish.

“Perfect,” Kurt replied.

Without even looking up from Puck’s latest doodle, Mike reached out and rubbed a comforting hand against Dave’s arm.  “It’s less scary if you avoid looking at his eyes,” he suggested.

Which, while not necessarily polite, was definitely an idea with merit.

Kurt allowed them the next ten minutes to stare at Puck’s rockstar accountant (it was titled and everything, so there was no arguing this) before he got fed up with it confiscated their backpacks, making a point to stare threateningly into both of their eyes should anymore funny business occur.

No more funny business occurred. 

Though Mike and Dave may (and this was a very hypothetical ‘may’) have held hands.  You know, for moral support.

Not because Kurt made them do it for laughs or anything.

Not at all.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

“Okay,” Sam chirped, staring down at the phone in his hand as Dave re-entered the room, tray loaded with a small plate of cookies and two glasses of lemonade balanced carefully in his hands (if his mother taught him anything it was to be a kind and generous host.  She would have his hide for not showing the proper amount of warmth in hospitality.  This was something even Azimio had come to respect).  Dave shut the door behind him with his foot and settled the tray on top of his desk.  In his peripherals, Sam waved a hand at him absently, focused on his texts.  “Mike says the tickets definitely aren’t his and Tina and Puck don’t know anything about them either.” He snapped the phone closed and looked up at Dave, excitement in his eyes.  “That means we definitely have our first clue.”  He tossed his phone onto the bed beside him and picked up the ‘evidence’ bag.  “We are on a roll now.”

He held the bag up to eye-level, staring at its contents critically (as he had many times in the past half hour) before bringing it down to his lap, smoothing out the crumpled pieces of paper through the Ziploc plastic with extreme care. 

Dave had his body turned towards his desk, giving the appearance of messing with the tray and napkins, and tried not to stare at Sam. 

He hated this.  Stuff like- well, these moments.  These quiet moments where Sam wasn’t loud-Sam or necessarily serious-Sam or-

It was easy to forget there was a person under there, sometimes.  Because Sam could be so loud and so cheerful and so enthusiastically bound for whatever whim happened to hit him.  But beneath those layers was a down-to-earth Sam.  A Sam that had experienced homelessness and heartbreak, betrayal and distrust and the same, and more, amount of the usual of crap teenagers usually end up doling out upon each other and the rest of the world.  It could be argued (at least by Dave, by those who cared) that Sam had lived just a little more than the rest of them.  He had dealt with the lack of basic necessities, worked through it best he could, and throughout it all kept that same Sam Evans smile plastered across his face.

Sometimes Dave wondered if the loud, dopey, dumb-blond shtick was Sam at all, or if it was just a shell Sam used in order to get by.  A defense mechanism, maybe.  Like with Dave and bullying.  Post-bullying.  Sometimes he wondered if only part of it was real, or if Sam just enhanced what he naturally had just so nobody could hurt him, because if you smiled when they wanted to see you sad or angry then they could never really win. (But then Dave remembered certain fights in certain locker rooms that ended with black eyes and other bruises, and knew that when the limit had been reached Sam would take no prisoners when it came to doing the right thing).

It was, but it wasn’t, Dave thought.  It wasn’t an act.  Maybe it had started as one and Sam had gotten so accustomed to it he could never figure out an ending, because it was comfortable and safe.  But Dave thought, or liked to think, that this was Sam in relaxed company.  That the loud-Sam wasn’t the act and neither was the serious one, it was both in equal parts.  Just- when they were here, and it was just them and people he felt safe with, Sam felt okay to be just a little bit more.  To be a little more goofy and whimsical because life was hard, and sometimes you had to embark on silly, nonsensical quests because you needed that lightness. 

The more Dave thought about it, the more he knew he was right.  And he-

He hated Sam sometimes, because he was right.  For existing like that.  He hated how hard he was falling for him, he hated the fact they would probably never have a real conversation, or that Dave was stupid enough to think that stealth-wooing would work.

But he had to try.   He had to.

For Sam’s stubborn insistence in exploring the extraordinary, if not for anything else. 

“Why do you think they did it?”

“What?” 

Sam’s question shook Dave out of his silent musing, and when he looked over the blond sent him a brief, earnest look before returning his attention to the tickets in his lap.  “There’s three things we’re looking for right?” he asked, running a distracted hand through his hair.  “Means, motive, and opportunity.  So I’m wondering what exactly is the motive for stealing a choreography notebook.  That’s the most important part right?”

The blond finished his say and glanced at Dave, looking for confirmation, and the standing teen nodded, showing that he followed Sam’s logic.

“I mean,” Sam started, leaning back to examine the tickets at a distance. “I know Mike has all the best moves, but he probably would have shared them if anyone had asked.” He frowned down at the tickets, thumb stroking across the bottom seam in the plastic. “At least, if any of his friends had asked.”

Sam furrowed his brows and looked back at Dave, who may or may not have some mild alarm building in the pit of his stomach. 

He should have given Sam more credit.  Way more credit.  Maybe they should have taken Mike’s lucky hairbrush or something-

“So I think,” Sam continued, oblivious to Dave’s inner panic attack. “That the tickets were planted to make it look like one of the glee kids did it right?  Because they’re the only one’s who would ever admit to liking musicals.”  The blond stared off into the distance, mind churning, and thumped the bag of tickets against his legs.  “This feels a little heavy handed.”

“What if-” the words were out of Dave’s mouth before his brain had any chance to catch up, but Sam was staring at him earnestly, more than ready for his explanation, so Dave sucked it up and made it work.  “You’re jumping to conclusions,” he suggested.  At Sam’s immediate frown Dave held up a placating hand, gesturing for the blond to hear him out. “We don’t want to exclude anything right?  We have to look at all the angles.”  At Sam’s nod, he continued.  “So yes, the clue could have been planted.  Or maybe one of your glee club friends is playing a prank or maybe one of them is feeling especially vindictive towards Puck or Tina and is taking it out on Mike or something…” Dave trailed off and scratched the back of his head, wondering if any of this babble was making sense.  Dear god, he was becoming Mike. 

No.  Nononononooo-

Dave liked Mike, but he especially enjoyed have a stable outlook on life.  You know, dependent and steadfast; not spazzy.

“Dude,” Sam began, wonder strong enough in his voice that Dave felt okay to risk a glance his way, only to see Sam reevaluating the tickets with a renewed sense of fascination.  “That could totally be it.  And then,” he said, hopping up and grabbing onto Dave’s shoulder excitedly. “They could have done the heavy-handed ticket planting to make us think it was someone outside the glee club even though it wasn’t!”  He rocked back on his heels, conspiratorial look adorning his face.  “They think we’re bad detectives.”

Dave scoffed on reflex, bumping his elbow against Sam’s side.  “They’re clearly underestimating us.”

“Exactly!” Sam cheered.  “Now they’re making it look like a case because they know we’re on the case.  Not like anyone else.”

And with this explanation Sam flopped back down on Dave’s bed, content smile on his face. 

He looked up at Dave cheerfully though half-lidded eyes (God-stupid-Dave wished he had a camera because that look sucked the air out of him, seeing Sam so relaxed likethat on his bed-). “At least they’re making it a challenge right?”

Instead of answering Dave chose to nod, turning his attention back to the tray on his desk and deciding to hell with it, he would move it to the bed.

He was willing to risk a few crumbs and spills to keep a contented Sam right there for just a little bit longer.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

“So,” Sam said, talking around a mouthful of cookie as he jotted suspects down on his big yellow notepad. “In total we have me, Mike, Finn, Joe, Artie, Rory, Kurt, Blaine, Santana, Rachel, Quinn, Brittany, Mercedes, Sugar, Puck, and Tina.  Oh, and maybe Zizes, for Puck you know.  Now obviously we can scratch off me and Mike,” Sam crossed off the names as he read them, then gave his list another glance over.  “And probably Joe too.  Upstanding kind of guy, devout Christian, definitely not interested in stealing.  I would exclude Quinn for the same reasons but…” he made a vague waving motion, eyes still glued on the suspect in question. “She can have these moments of extreme, like, craziness.”  He looked up at Dave, eyebrows lifted.  “It’s kind’ve intense.”

He stared down at the list, chewing on the end of his pencil.  “On second thought, let’s just put her in the ‘Immediate investigation’ column.”

Dave nodded and began scribbling down his own notes.  Method acting, Kurt had called it.  “Sounds good to me,” he replied, hiding his smile behind a cookie.  Sam didn’t need his input to keep going, but Dave figured it was always nice to get a verbal confirmation to show that he was on the same page.

“Okay,” Sam continued, sending him a brief smile before getting back down to business.  “Mercedes is also on the God Squad but again, she has that crazy-diva psychosis thing she can enter and poof all logic and reasonableness, gone.  But…” Sam shrugged, spinning his pencil in one hand while the other tapped against the notepad. “She’s not really interested in dancing.  Or has a particular vendetta against any of the Hebr-asian Fusion,” Sam waved his pencil at Dave’s raised eyebrow, acknowledging his surprise at the trio’s name but not deeming it worthy enough to stop their current track of conversation.  “So her we’ll put…in the ‘Secondary investigation’ column,” Sam decided, totally making up the names of said columns as he went along.

On his notepad Dave titled his column ‘Backup investigation’, having firmly decided they would just stick to their original pool of suspects.

Dave tapped his pencil against the side of his head, staring at the list of remaining glee kids thoughtfully.  Method.  Acting.  “So at the moment we have exactly two motives to work with.  Number one is that someone legitimately wants the dance moves for whatever reason.  Number two is the act of depriving Mike of his choreography, which suggests hostility towards Mike himself or, more realistically, someone attacking Mike to get at Tina or Puck, and honestly, the latter is most likely.”  He looked up at Sam to see him nodding in agreement, no confusion behind those eyes, and decided to continue. “So of the remaining people, who could possibly have those motives?  Or, I guess, not have those motives, so we can scratch them off.”

He allowed Sam a few minutes of quiet contemplation as he studied the list himself, trying to discern possibilities based on what information Sam had given him.  And then trying to figure out how to milk this out for as long as possible.

Yeah…there needed to be more people in the ‘Immediate investigation’ column.

“I think we can scratch off Rory too,” Sam decided.  “He gets peer pressured sometimes but he always comes through in the end.  Plus, he’s good friends with Mike and Puck.  It’s probably not him.”

“Maybe that’s what they want us to think,” Dave suggested, earning a surprised look from Sam.  “If Rory’s working with someone it would be the perfect crime.”

“That’s collusion,” Sam declared sagely. “And that’s something we’ll focus on later.  For now we try to figure out who the main suspect would be and then we move on.  Means and opportunity, remember?”

Which…all makes very much sense, but Dave was still stuck on Sam’s use of ‘collusion’, staring at the blond and feeling impressed.  Sam picked up on this after a few seconds and gave a cheeky grin, tapping his pencil against the side of his head cheerfully.  “I’ve been beefing up my detective skills.”

“It shows,” Dave admitted, for lack of anything better to say. 

It felt incredibly lame the moment it left his mouth, but Sam seemed to revel in it, taking a moment to glow with pride before going back to work.

“So for now, Rory’s off the list,” Sam muttered, focusing on his paper but not hiding the grin still plastered across his face.

Dave was going to go ahead and give himself a point for that one.  Start a numerical value system to give the illusion of their relationship success or something. 

It was a nice thought. 

“What about Kurt?” Dave asked, trying to get his head back in the (investigating) game. “He was with Mike when he contacted us so he’s free and clear, right?”

Dave was about to deem Kurt innocent when he was met by a drawn out hum from Sam, sounding almost…dubious?

Dave sent the blond a leveling look.  Sam didn’t back down an inch.  Instead he just shrugged his shoulders.

Eventually, Dave blurted, “Are you serious?”

“Well he isn’t good at dancing,” Sam explained honestly, gesturing his hands as if to say what-can-you-do?  “He would have the easiest time getting the tickets and,” Sam leaned in closer, dropping his voice down despite the fact there was no one around to do any eavesdropping. “I’ve noticed him and Mike hanging out a lot lately.  Like,” Sam lifted his eyebrows, trying to convey some hidden meaning that of course had to do with notebook theft and not other social collusions. “a lot Dave.” 

The blond leaned back on the bed, creating notes with renewed fervor. “What if Kurt was trying to improve his dancing skills for his NYADA audition and wanted something new and fresh to impress the audition lady right?” Sam asked, not bothering to wait for an answer, not even for Dave to protest his use of the word ‘fresh’. “But like, maybe the choreography wasn’t finished, or it was personal, and Mike couldn’t show it to Kurt but Kurt really needed it because, let’s face it, Kurt needs a lot of time to practice.”

The sounds of Sam’s pencil got louder, the pencil flying across the paper more urgently as Sam came to the apex of his theory. “Kurt has access to the locker room and is crafty enough to not only recruit us, but throw off the trail by planting a red herring and by being there for the beginning of our investigation, therefore almost getting himself excluded from the suspect pool.”  Sam was practically bouncing in his seat in an attempt to contain his excitement, and while he was so very, very wrong and yet simultaneously right, Dave had to push aside the contradictions just to focus on capturing that stupidly proud expression on Sam’s face as he drew to his conclusion, grinning at Dave because it was their victory, not just his.

And that…yeah, that was all kinds of nice.

This was all kinds of nice. 

“I’m putting Kurt on the ‘Immediate investigation’ list.  Just, you know, to be safe.” 

Sam added the last part as an attempt to be modest, or maybe just to cover his ass if his theory turned out to be completely unsupported, but either way Dave didn’t call him out on it.  Even if part of him preferred when Sam totally owned his speculations, because that meant he wasn’t afraid of Dave ever tearing him down if they were wrong.

Despite it all, there was still some fear there.  Some doubt.  Not that- it wasn’t like Dave hadn’t earned it, it just stung a little, was all. 

It would be a slow road to total reparation.  Dave just needed to remember that.  Keep his eyes on the prize. 

Dave cleared his throat, trying to clear out a lump he suddenly found in it.  “So if Kurt was trying to uh…get the edge on the competition, wouldn’t Rachel be trying to do the same thing, since this is her future on the line and all?”

Mentally, Dave apologized to Rachel.  He had grown to like her, after that little speech she had given him.  He didn’t want to subject her to on-a-mission-Sam, but it couldn’t be helped.

Sam thought about this for a second, then shook his head.  “Nah, I don’t think so.  Rachel’s more of a control freak; she would want to do her own choreography plus,” he leaned in again, and Dave was starting to think this had more to do with the spy movies they had been watching than for the actual need for whispering. “She does not have the same troubles in the uh, dance department, if you know what I’m saying.”  He finished this with a wink and then leaned back, thankfully focused on his notes and unable to witness Dave’s face heat up.

He covered his flush by bringing his notepad up to eyelevel, taking great pains in investigating each and every name.  “So is she in the backup- I mean, is she in the ‘Secondary investigation’ column or crossed off altogether?”

“Hmm…” Sam mumbled, tapping his pencil against his protruded lower lip. “She was willing to throw her friendship with Kurt under the bus to beef up her chances at NYADA, so I’m going to say secondary, since she can be like, impulsive and stuff.  And the chances of her actually having tickets to lose is like, the highest of anyone.  So yeah, secondary.”

“Then what about Finn?” Dave prompted, jotting Rachel’s name down in the ‘Backup’ column. “He’s dating Rachel and lives with Kurt, wouldn’t that increase his chances for…burglary, I guess?”

When he looked back to Sam the blond was sporting a mildly disappointed look, like he knew Dave could do better.

Co-lu-sion Dave.”  Sam patiently explained with an exasperated sigh. “It’s like you don’t even listen to me.  Yes, Finn could be working with Rachel or Kurt but by himself the guy’s too big of a teddy bear to ever steal anything.  Or smart enough to figure out how to steal something.”  Which was incredibly rich, coming from Sam, but Dave made a point to restrain any chuckles.  Sam continued, “As it stands Finn doesn’t really need any choreography, and if he did he would just ask, and he’s more concerned with keeping the glee club united and happy so he wouldn’t try to mess that up.” Sam finished his spiel by scratching Finn’s name off the list with a mad flourish. “And with that, I declare Finn innocent.” He paused before adding, “Not including any chances of collusion.”

“Should we start a ‘Possible Collusion’ column?” Dave offered, half-joking. 

He would have been entirely joking, but he had spent enough time with Sam to know the blond could decide that was an awesome idea.

He was proven right a few seconds later, when Sam began furiously erasing and nodded. “Nice thinking, that will save us time later.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Dave’s lips but he kept his face straight, dutifully adding the newest column. “I live to serve.”

“Well, it’s always nice to be good at what you do.”

It was a joke, quick and casual, and Dave had to force himself to keep focused so he wouldn’t be stuck in la-la land, celebrating it. 

“So, uh-” he began, tracing his finger along the names of the remaining candidates. “Who else could possibly have the ‘need for secret choreography’ motive?”

Sam shrugged and looked thoughtful, either not-bothered or not-noticing Dave brushing off his joke. “Inside the glee club, I would say Brittany.”  Upon Dave’s justifiably doubtful look (he had met Brittany, and criminal mastermind she was not), Sam rushed to explain his theory.  “It wouldn’t be vindictive or anything, but what if she really wanted to see what was inside the notebook?”

“How would she have gotten it?” Dave asked, legitimately curious as opposed conveying the doubt he couldn’t help but have.  Yeah, he wanted to call bullshit, but if Sam actually had a theory…

Well, Sam knew these people better than he did.  Dave would have to take his word for it.

When his question was met with a small, drawn-out pause Dave knew, and confirmed, that Sam was wearing his well-you-know-how-my-friends-are-kind’ve-crazy? look he usually got when they talked about Mike.  “Well…” Sam began, scratching the back of his head. “I don’t really know how she does it but like, Brittany can just manage some things the rest of us can’t.  Like in this instance,” Sam babbled, trying to keep Dave’s interest (even though he already had it, no question). “Going into the male locker room and getting into a secured locker?  Yeah, that’s easy cake for Brittany.”  He shrugged again, leaning back against Dave’s headboard. “Do not ask me how, but she could definitely manage it.”

“So, the means would be…magic?” Dave asked, trying to figure out how this made sense.  Hell, if a guy like Mike could exist, obviously instigating the most unlikely of circumstances, then Brittany achieving her goals despite total lack of skill, means, and opportunity sort’ve made sense.

Sam confirmed this later, happily chirping, “Brittany magic.”

Because that was the important part that needed to be clarified.

“Sorry,” Dave said. “Brittany magic.  So does she go under ‘Immediate investigation’…?”

“Yes,” Sam interrupted, adding her to the appropriate column.  “It wouldn’t be an intentional theft, but it’s still worth looking into.”

Dave added the words “unintentional theft” next to Brittany and continued to the next name on the list. 

“Sugar?” he asked, trying to drag up what little information he had about her.

He came up with nothing.  Which went to show that either Sam didn’t talk about her because he didn’t like her, or that Sam didn’t talk about her because he actually forgot she existed.  Which happened, sometimes.  He wasn’t going to waste time remembering someone was there if they didn’t actually warrant it. 

So that…that didn’t say good things. 

“She’s a wildcard,” Sam eventually admitted, chewing on the end of his already abused pencil.  “She’s not that smart, but she’s definitely crazy.  I don’t know why she would want to steal a notebook but honestly, most of the things she does don’t make any sense.  If she wanted it, it would definitely happen.”  Sam frowned and tapped his finger against a name on his notepad. “On second thought, let’s put Rory in the ‘Possible Collusion’ column.  Sugar wouldn’t want to get her hands dirty, so she would probably go to him.”

“Moving,” Dave muttered, erasing Rory’s name from where he had scratched it out and adding him to the collusion column.  “And Sugar’s…?”

‘Immediate investigation’,” Sam replied, eyes focused on his notes. 

“Right.”

That gave them four immediate suspects out of seventeen candidates, two secondary suspects, six people they still had to look into, and three people that were already disregarded altogether.

Though that left the question…

“Can’t we scratch Puck and Tina off the list?” Dave asked.  He was a little confused as to why they were on it in the first place. “They wouldn’t have taken it, right?”

“Dude, I am not going to pretend I know how those guys work.  You remember the-” at Dave’s groan Sam stopped himself, nodding in agreement at the utter stupidity that was Puck/Mike/Tina relations.  “Yeah, so maybe Mike hadn’t been paying Puck enough attention lately, or Tina, and one of them took it.”

Dave furrowed his eyebrows, puzzling that over.  “That doesn’t sound like something Tina would do.”

No, Tina would go for the more direct approach because she understood that subtlety was not her boys’ strongest suit.  Picking up hints; they could not do.

“Nah, you’re right, but it definitely sounds like something Puck would do,” Sam replied.  “Should have thought of that sooner.  Don’t they always check the romantic interests first in real investigations?”  The blond sighed, shaking his head sadly.  “Rookie mistake.”

“Live and learn,” Dave offered.  “So Tina’s…”

“Off the list,” Sam confirmed.  “She would not put up with that nonsense.  But Puck’s a serious candidate, I think.”

“Perpetrator number 1,” Dave muttered, bumping Quinn’s name down the list. 

Okay, now they only had four people left for consideration.

Dave pushed a cookie closer to Sam’s wandering hand, the blond too busy making notes to bother looking at the plate. “Blaine is…?”

“Possible collusion,” Sam replied, cramming the cookie successfully into his mouth, triumphant grin following this victory.  It was only enhanced by his bulging cheeks, kind’ve like a hamster’s, and Dave wondered if he should just start investing in hidden cameras or something, or if that crossed some kind of creeper/stalker line.

Probably (definitely), but it was always nice to dream.

Outside the mess in his head, Sam continued talking. “Alone Blaine really has no motive, he doesn’t need to steal choreography and he doesn’t need to mess with the Hebr-asian Fusion.  He would only be involved for Kurt.”

“Who is primary suspect number two.”

Sam pointed a finger gun at Dave, clicking his thumb down with a careless wink.  “Bingo.”

And Dave wasn’t, wasn’t, wasn’t flushing, because that would be stupid.  He’d already seen Sam wink.  At him.  Today even.  This couldn’t keep happening every time Sam threw some thoughtless gesture his way, he wouldn’t get anything done.

His notepad came to face level once more to cover Dave’s not-flush, and Quinn was bumped down again.

Dave cleared his throat, looking at the remaining names. “And Santana?”

“Is scary, but I don’t think she would have any sort of interest in this.  Unless she just felt like screwing with Puck, but this seems like a lot more effort for her with not a lot of payoff.  It’s far more satisfying just to lay out the insults to his face right?”

Dave shrugged.  “I’ll take your word for it.”

“As well you should,” Sam replied, more than pleased to share his knowledge. “We’ll make her secondary, just in case.”

“Sounds good,” Dave murmured.  “That leaves us with just Lauren and Artie.”

“Both of which could try to get at Puck.”

Dave frowned at his list. “What about Tina?  Doesn’t anyone have a grudge against her?”

When he looked up Sam had both eyebrows raised at him, knowing grin on his face.  “Would you want to mess with her?”

“No.”

Sam shrugged.  “Well, everyone else feel the same way.”

Though that didn’t make entirely too much sense because Dave didn’t talk to Tina that much, and he wondered how much of that behavior the other glee-clubbers also participated in, Puck and Mike excluded. 

And that was…a depressing train of thought.

Dave shook his head, trying to get back to business.  Focus. “So where should we put them?”

The headboard creaked a little as Sam leaned against it, stroking his chin thoughtfully.  “I would say Artie is primary, though he would need help, and Zizes is secondary because again, a lot of effort for minimum payoff.”

Dave thumped his pencil against his notepad as he finished off the list, all of the glee club successfully put into four neat columns.  “Alright; we have you, Mike, Joe, and Tina as completely innocent, Finn, Rory, and Blaine as possible colluders, Santana, Rachel, Mercedes, and Zizes as secondary suspects, and Puck, Kurt, Quinn, Brittany, Sugar, and Artie as the primary suspects.”

Though two of those were on the list for the sole purpose of being unpredictable crazy-people, and once again Dave had to wonder exactly how he wound up hanging out with these people.  If he wasn’t careful, they would slowly pull him down into their madness.

…yeah, that had sounded hysterical to him too.  He already was crazy; might as well enjoy it. 

Preferably, with a guy like Sam Evans.

“That sounds about right,” Sam agreed, nodding as he followed along with his own notes. 

“Who should we start with first?” Dave asked, carefully considering each of their primary suspects.  Should he give these people a heads up?  Or should he just…let things run there course, so the reactions would be sincere, legitimate.  Dave would have to ask Kurt later for his opinion. 

Before Sam could reply, Dave’s phone went off on his nightstand, buzzing and rattling against the old wood.  He rushed over to pick it up; checking the ID to see it was Azimio, probably looking for an excuse not to do homework.  The people Dave hung out with, honestly.  It was like Kurt and Mike were the only ones who understood the importance of good grades.  Or academic eligibility.  Dave was still trying to figure out how Brittany got to compete in so many extracurricular activities when she had a grade point average of like, zero. 

There was something wrong with the system there, he just knew it. 

“I gotta take this real quick,” he said, giving Sam a quick nod before walking out of the room.  He walked through the hallway and started to make his way down the stairs for privacy. Whatever they were going to talk about, he just-

The guy he had to be with Azimio was not the guy Dave wanted hanging around Sam.  That was just it, plain and simple. 

He used to think there was no difference, but now he had to argue there was.

“Sup?” he said, picking up the call.  He never really needed to say much, Azimio only needed a little prompting to charge ahead.

“Hey, get on Xbox live, we need another guy to play capture the flag.  We don’t want to be looking shoddy when Halo 4 comes out.”

Dave sighed, already seeing where this was going. “I can’t dude, I’m busy.”

“Too busy for Halo?” the other teen scoffed.  “Dude, you’ve been busy like, everyday this week.  What, are you doing some more charity work?”

And by that he meant hanging with Sam, and Dave’s fingers tightened around the edge of his phone but he kept his breath steady, quickly thinking up a lie. “I’m babysitting.”

It wasn’t that he was ashamed of the time he spent with Sam; Dave just hated how Azimio ragged on him.  He was afraid his friend would start taking out his frustrations on Sam one day, for not understanding why Dave was suddenly hanging out with him.  Maybe Azimio felt slighted, or something.  They had been best friends since fifth grade; they did just about everything together and…

Azimio…he could be a bit of control freak.  He didn’t like it when people messed with the status quo.  There were rules, he said.  Rules that had to be followed and if everyone just acted normal, if they didn’t diverge from what was normal then the world would be a much better place for all of them, now wouldn’t it?  They could all be happy.  No one would have to get picked on.

Sometimes Dave wondered if his friendship with Azimio was anything more than an attempt to protect himself, nowadays.  As long as he kept in Azimio’s good graces he was safe from…well, Azimio.

Now wasn’t that a heartwarming and perfectly selfish thought. 

“Too bad man,” Azimio sighed, instantly taking a one eighty from annoyed to understanding.  Yeah there was…see, there was a human underneath that.  He could be reasoned with. “We’ll just have to get Clark to take your place.  Even if he kind’ve sucks.”

Dave shrugged. “You get better with practice right?”

On the other end of the line, Azimio scoffed. “Yeah, a lot of practice, for that guy.  Good luck with your rugrats Dave, see you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” Dave mumbled, but Azimio was already gone, off in search of his last player. 

Would Clark replace him, if Azimio decided to stop being his friend?

Psh- whatever, that was a- that was a stupid thought.  No point.  Way to be excessively girly.  Whatever though, now he could get back to-

“I think I’ll figure it out on my own.”

The voice came from the top of the stairs, and when he looked up Sam was clutching his well-used notepad against his chest, fingers tight against the edges.  “I mean,” Sam continued, looking at the pictures on the wall, avoiding Dave’s eyes. “The order or, whatever, I’ll figure it out at home, get back to you tomorrow.”

He didn’t wait for Dave’s input on the idea, just quickly disappeared back into the hallway, still not looking at Dave. 

Yeah, it didn’t take long for the jock to put two and two together to figure out exactly which unfortunate part of the conversation Sam had picked up on.  Dave took the stairs two at a time, reentering his room just as Sam was shoving his notes into his backpack. 

“I’ll call Kurt to pick me up,” Sam explained, appearing so entirely focused on zipping up his backpack but not, like it was conscious, because he wouldn’t look at Dave.  “Or maybe I’ll walk, whatever.  Don’t want to waste anymore of your time-”

“Sam-”

“Why can’t you just tell him!” Sam burst, finally whipping his head around so he can glare at Dave.  The change was sudden but somehow Dave was expecting it, because Sam was never really good at restraining himself over things like injustice.  “Am I so bad for your reputation you can’t own up to hanging out with me?  Are you afraid they’ll slushy you too?”

“That’s not-”

“Then why?” Sam asked, legitimately imploring, wanting to understand.  “Why can’t you just talk to him, he’s your friend-

“Because he’s-” Dave started but he had to take a breath, to think it out so that it there could be some form of comprehension.  “He’s not a good guy.  I mean it’s not-” Dave shook his head.  “It’s not like glee club Sam. Outside, with the rest of school, this is what guys are like.  They hold onto standards and what’s always been because they don’t like change.  It’s like an affront to their existence.” 

Slowly, Dave made his way towards Sam, sitting down beside him on the bed. “He doesn’t like change.  So I can’t-” he looked at Sam, but all he got was that terribly familiar look of disappointment, because Dave was failing him, and Dave struggled to find better words for this.  “I don’t want-” he said, reaching out for Sam’s arm just as he was trying to rise from the bed. “I don’t want him to start taking out his anger on you, because of that change.”  As Sam moved to sit back down, backpack cradled against his chest protectively, Dave added, “And I also don’t want him taking it out on me.  So I-” he shrugged, not how else to say it. “I guess I’m a coward.”

He expected Sam to leave then.  For that to be it until tomorrow, or until the next day or until however long it would take for them to come back and pretend like nothing had happened, like Dave hadn’t made this crack that they weren’t ever going to fix. 

Instead there was a sharp pain in his arm about a second later, and when he reached down to rub the spot Sam was pulling his fist away, determination written on his face.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sam muttered, then, with his eyes still focused on the wall in front of them, he reached out a hand to rub against Dave’s arm too. “I noticed I haven’t been slushied lately.”  There was a pause, and Dave’s heart might just, beat a little faster.  If his world was made of clichés.

“Actually,” Sam continued, looking at Dave from the corner of his eye. “I noticed that most of New Directions has gone slushieless for a couple weeks now.”

“I uhh…” Dave dropped off, clenching his fingers to avoid rubbing the back of his head in that super sheepish gesture he always seemed to do around Sam, “I might have…You know, just steered Azimio towards the chess club.  Or tried to find other ways to keep the guys occupied during school.”  He shrugged, trying to play it off, but there was no deterring Sam’s giant grin. “Right now we’re between making up new sports and a mild prank war.  Person who can pull the most successful pranks in the next month wins.”

Sam beamed at him, like he totally called it, and clasped Dave’s shoulder.  “Dude, you’re like a man on the inside.”

“Sorta, I guess…” Dave admitted, though he still felt like…crap, for lack of better word.  He had happy-Sam, proud-of-him-Sam, right here and now but he didn’t honestly deserve it.  “But I still-”

“No, no excuses,” Sam declared, dumping his backpack onto the floor and hopping up so that he was standing in front of Dave, hands propped on his hips. “You’re a badass super spy in enemy territory and you still choose to hang out with guys like me, like Kurt and Mike, and humor conversations with small yet undeniably intimidating Jewish girls and still stick your neck out for all of us?” He finished this speech by crossing his arms, knowing smirk adorning his lips. “Then yeah, you get to not feel bad about it, because at least you know it’s bad right?  Does this make any sense?”

And it…it did but it didn’t, which sort of felt like what the entirety of their relationship was at the moment, so Dave just smiled back. 

“Yeah,” he said, firmly deciding morals or not, spy cameras were a purchase worth making. “I get it.”  

“Good,” Sam said, beaming. “Now let’s get back to business.”

“Okay,” Dave agreed.  “Sure.”

As they got back to work, Dave marveled that whether it was Sam or Azimio, it always felt like he was following someone.  At least with Sam he could follow without selectively hiding parts of himself but…

This…submissive ideology was just another defense mechanism probably, a cop out even, to just get by.  And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but the way he figured it…

Dave wanted to follow wherever Sam would take them.

So he would.

For as long as Sam would have him.

Chapter Text

Finn wasn't ashamed to admit he was not entirely comfortable with the subtle changes happening in the glee club. And by changes he meant Karofsky, and by subtle he meant…Karofksy.

Because while that was a small change it felt like the most bizarre thing in the world, for him and Sam to be all buddy-buddy all of the sudden.

Dave and Mike, Finn could understand that. Mike was a nice guy. He made a point to be welcoming and kind to others (even to others that had spent the majority of the past two years throwing slushies in their faces).  Finn could understand why Karofsky would be okay with hanging out with Mike, because Mike was legitimately a good guy who knew the importance of keeping things quiet, who had mastered the art of blending in and avoiding trouble so easily it had become second nature. Low profile wasn't even an adjective anymore when it came to describing Mike, it simply was him (except when it came to Puck but, let's face it, that described practically everyone's interaction with the mohawked teen).

So Mike and Dave, that made sense, kind've. Dave…reforming (yeah, that was a good word for it) enough to actually reach out and help Mike with his relationship problems, that was…that showed some maturity. Some respect. A generosity the rest of the glee kids couldn't actually bring up without fear of getting thrown in the dumpsters, but still nice.

Karofsky and Sam on the other hand…

Finn couldn't wrap his head around it. There was no logic to it. No reason.

Sam had hated Karofsky. And not just, "Man, that guy's such a jerk, I hate him," but legitimate, I-throw-a-curse-upon-you-and-your-ancestors kind of hate that was beyond personal. Karofsky was a bully. And not only that, he was a bully that had gotten off scot-free. He had threatened Kurt so badly he had to leave (Kurt, who Sam was fiercely protective of, because Kurt had always stood beside the blond, had never talked down to him or doubted him), so how was it that now, only like, seven odd weeks after he was trying to destroy Karofksy's umbrella through the sheer power of glaring, that Sam and Dave had become the bestest of friends?

It wasn't an act. Sam wasn't being forced into it. He honestly enjoyed hanging out with Karofsky. Saw no reason for it not to happen, did so many- and Dave was humoring this.

Except he wasn't. Because that was the first thing Finn had looked for. That was the first thing Artie and Rachel and Rory had all looked for, when that twosome officially became a regular thing. To see if Dave was just playing Sam, if this was just some new kind of prank or joke or drawn-out form of hazing.

And Finn, just like Artie and Rory and Rachel (Rachel, who had gone so far as to actually talk to Dave) had come to the undeniable conclusion that it was none of those things. Karofsky was hanging out with Sam because he wanted to hang out with Sam. He was tutoring him (correctly, Artie had made sure, the other teen had not been leading Sam astray) because Sam needed it and he came over to watch Avatar for the fifteenth-million time because he and Sam weren't quite able to quote the entire movie verbatim (well, Sam could; but he would not be satisfied until Dave had a better handle on his Na'vi).

Dave was the one who called to remind Sam about that report that was due and Dave was the one that suggested songs for Sam to cover in glee club and Dave was the one who nodded to Kurt as though he both acknowledged and respected their suspicions of him, like he was glad that so many people had Sam's back.

And clearly, they all knew it, (even if they didn't say it, even the ones that only cared enough to pay like, the most microscopic amount of attention), knew that something had either happened or some kind of knowledge had been dropped that made it acceptable for Dave to be welcomed into their group so easily. Something that only Kurt and Dave and Mike and those guys knew.

Finn wasn't…he got it. There had to be boundaries right? He respected that. So it wasn't like he was going to barge in and demand to be let in on the secrets, because he didn't need to. He trusted Sam and he especially trusted Kurt and if they said Karofsky was okay then Finn wasn't going to question it.

But this detective thing? Whatever it was? Yeah, Finn had a lot of questions about that. And all of them seemed pretty reasonable in the grand scheme of things. Especially considering how Sam kept on like, sizing everyone up during glee rehearsal when he thought they wouldn't notice. And then there were the hushed conversations with Mike and the way he kept jotting notes down on his tiny notepad that he refused to let Finn look through…

It could only mean one thing.

There was a mystery afoot.

Sam and Dave had actually found a mystery. With Mike, probably. And the way Sam was eyeing all of them suspiciously made Finn think that just maybe…okay, definitely, they were the suspects.

Which was bad. If someone in the glee club was a crime-committer that would make for more issues, and they did not need more issues, not with Nationals coming just around the corner and finals and-

They were doing a good job, keeping it on the downlow. But for some odd reason this did not bring any sense of comfort to Finn.

He thought about it.

And slept on it.

Then thought about it some more.

Eventually he came to the conclusion that he was just a more hands-on kind of guy. He was like, the leader of the Glee club right? If anyone should be concerned with their well-being it should be him, right?

So if anyone should be solving glee-related mysteries, it should be him. With a delicate hand.

Because they didn't want it to be obvious, right?

Finn decided he would investigate the investigation, keeping tabs on Sam and Dave and maybe, just possibly solving the mystery (whatever it was) before they did and initiating damage control. Or like, getting Quinn and Rachel to initiate damage control, because girls were better at that kind of stuff anyway.

And there was the slightest chance that if Finn followed them around he would get to know that super-secret thing that made Karofksy acceptable, or maybe he would find out Karofksy really was just messing with them all along, but either way, Finn figured he would win. They had more people working on the possible mystery, he could chaperone Sam and Dave from a distance, and he would finally be able to sleep at night without feeling lousy for not taking proper care of all the Glee club members.

Finn considered this responsible leadership. It would make up for all the times he had slacked off on the job.

Truly, this was a perfect plan.

-:-:-:-:-:-

"Hey."

The voice startled Finn from his position against the wall, posed so that he could peak around the corner to where Dave and Sam were huddled and talking quietly but still able to retreat quickly if they looked in his direction. When Finn managed to calm himself, he turned to see that his intruder was Brittany, hugging a unicorn notebook to her chest possessively as she stared at him with wide, curious eyes.

"Did you get stuck?" she asked, tilting her head to the side as she glanced down to his hands, pressed against the wall behind him. "Or lost?" She frowned, shifting her weight from side to side uneasily. "I really hate it when that happens. I can call Santana though, or Rachel, if you want. Though Santana will probably yell less."

Finn blinked for a moment, trying to follow along Brittany's train of thought and eventually giving up, shaking his head. "No and no, I'm good Britt," he explained, holding his hands up and moving away from the wall to demonstrate. "See? Thanks for the offer though."

Brittany's response was to tilt her head to the other side, eyebrows furrowing quizzically. "There are better places for standing Finn. I have a few favorites by the air conditioning vents," Brittany explained, then squinted her eyes, looking thoughtful. "Or maybe you would like the vending machines better. Anyway, I can show you."

"No-" Finn began to protest, pulling his arm back gently as the cheerleader attempted to lead him off. "I'm not just-" he looked both ways quickly, checking to see if the coast was clear, then leaned forward. "I'm spying," he whispered, giving her a conspiratorial wink.

She stared at him blankly for a few seconds, vague but so…eerily still Finn wanted to wave a hand in front of her face, almost did, until she broke out of her trance, replying, "Like that James Bond movie me and Santana snuck into?"

Finn smiled at her brightly, glad they were getting somewhere. "Right."

The thoughtful look was back, this time accompanied by some chewing on her bottom lip. She looked at him, looked down the hallway, then back to him, confused. "Then shouldn't there be running?"

Finn blinked and tilted his head to the side. "What?"

"And car chases," Brittany continued, not hearing him. "They should be running and then you chase and then something explodes and then I get bored and start trying to pick out all the yellow Skittles." Finn furrowed his eyebrows, trying to keep up with her, and Brittany shrugged. "You are not very good at spying."

"I am-" Finn began to protest on reflex, then shook his head, trying to focus on the more important things. "No Britt, like, what detectives do. You know, that kind of spying."

"Like Sherlock Holmes?" Brittany asked, brightening up. "Lord Tubbington loves watching those movies, even though I never know what's going on, I like his hat though-"

"Yes," Finn exclaimed, cutting her off. "Yeah, that's exactly what it's like."

"You mean…" Brittany leaned so that she could peak around the corner, pulling back quickly with a nod. "Like Sam and Dave." She frowned, then clutched her notebook closer to her chest, rocking back and forth in some odd attempt to comfort herself. "I wanted to play with them but Santana said I couldn't. It makes me sad Finn," she said, looking at him imploringly. "I got the hat and everything."

She paused, looking off to the side, sad expression on her face until a thought dawned on her. She looked up at him carefully, eagerness in her eyes. "If you're detectiving, can I play with you?" Before Finn could say anything Brittany kept going, all excitement and energy, bouncing up and down in place with barely contained enthusiasm. "I promise I'll do whatever you say Finn, and I'll take good notes and say 'Elementary' a lot and I even have my own telescope Finn-"

"Okay, okay," Finn surrendered, before he could ask exactly what they would need a telescope for. "You can be my partner Britt."

Two heads were better than one right? Even if one of them was Brittany, she still had connections and access to things Finn didn't, and extra power as the President of the student council…

Besides, it was hard to pass up on enthusiasm like that.

"Thank you, thank you!" Brittany cheered, throwing her arms around his neck and giving him a brief hug, pulling away in time to do a quick happy dance. "We are going to be the best detectives ever Finn, I can feel it."

"Awesome," Finn said, smile widening on his face. "Now we're looking into-"

"Brittany?"

Finn didn't jump, which was awesome because normally he would have (check out his mad sleuthing skills), at the sound of Sam's voice. The other blond had just come around the corner, his own notepad clutched in his hand. He looked between Finn and Brittany, a hint of suspicion in his eyes.

"Can we talk to you?" he finished, nodding over to where Dave was standing by the empty choir room. Brittany nodded in return, smile still plastered on her face, but Finn reached and snagged her shoulder just as she was about to pass by.

"Just uh…" he began, trying to think of an excuse. "Homework stuff," he explained to Sam. Before the blond could question that Finn leaned forward, whispering quietly into Brittany's ear. "It's a secret okay? Tell them nothing."

When he pulled back Brittany just beamed at him, nodding excitedly. "You got it," she chirped, and without further ado made her way towards Dave, not even bothering with Sam anymore. The other blond gave an annoyed huff but didn't question their whispered conversation, instead choosing to follow after Brittany with an irritated look, leaving Finn to his own devices.

Well, that was fine. It wasn't like Finn didn't have a man on the inside anyway.

Even if that "man" was Brittany.

And…

Yeah, on second thought, maybe he should brush off his eavesdropping-through-doors ability. Or better yet, he was willing to bet anything the windows behind the risers were still cracked open. If he ran fast enough he could get outside those windows by the time they finished introductions.

He would even take his own notes.

Take that Evans.

Finn was on his way up in the world. Doing a proper job of leader-ing.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Dave didn't think it was all that unfair to assume that nothing would come from their "interrogation" with Brittany. And that was just what it was going to be, an "interrogation", quotes and horrible sarcasm intended. Dave had tried to figure out what kind of questions Sam wanted to ask Brittany but the blond had assured him he had it covered. All Dave needed to do was, to quote Sam verbatim, "Stand there and look pretty."

To which Dave had been unable to respond because his head was a panicked, over-enthused prick like that and far too please and simultaneously conflicted that Sam had used the word "pretty" (even though of the two of them Sam would obviously be considered the pretty one) so unfortunately Dave had been unable to address any of his concerns and had resigned himself on nodding dumbly because he was particularly stupid like that.

So for the moment Dave was tasked with sitting on the sidelines, observing and making his own notes to catch the things Sam had missed, and watching the door in case any of the other glee kids looked like they were going to show up. When Dave had asked why they didn't seek out a more secluded interrogation space, somewhere all their prime suspects didn't visit on a daily basis, Sam had simply replied that he didn't want to look too suspicious. He wanted his friends to feel safe and comfortable, be somewhere familiar so they would give the most honest answers.

So yeah, choir room, that was where they were doing this. Which made sense, and also no sense, but Sam had been so insistent and determined that Dave couldn't find the voice to fight him. There was logic to it. Besides, Sam knew these people better than he did.

And Dave trusted Sam.

So here they were.

Brittany all but pranced into the room, shashaying over to where they had set up two chairs facing each other. She plopped into one without being told, giving them both with a cheerful grin before turning her attention to the sparkling unicorn notebook in her hand. She settled into the chair, pulling her legs up in the ever-familiar criss-cross-applesauce and set the notebook on her lap, pulling a glittery pink gel pen out from where it was tucked behind her ear and flipping the spiral notebook open. Once she had settled on the page she looked back up at them, eyes wide as though they were the ones holding up this affair (and they were, but still, it was an odd look for her).

Sam blinked quizzically, then shook his head, sharing a quick look with Dave before he strode forward, all charisma and ease like he was still totally in charge of the situation. He pulled out his own smaller notepad; hand sized, and flipped open to a clean page, settling into his chair gradually while staring her down. Or, attempting to stare her down. Whatever his intentions, Brittany was completely oblivious. If anything she looked excited.

Yeah…this was probably going to be bad. Dave almost wanted to stop and call it a day now. They could go to Santana maybe, get her to ask Brittany. That would probably work better. Of course, then Dave had to remember that they would be asking about a fictional notebook, and that would probably lead to the kinds of questions he didn't necessarily feel like answering.

"Hi Sam," Brittany said in that cheerful, almost-monotone voice she always used. "Hi Dave."

She wiggled the fingers of her pen-free hand at Dave as a form of greeting, earning a small humph from Sam. Whether it was because of her lack of focus or her attention to Dave, the jock would never know.

Or hey- how about the crazy idea that Sam might have just been sighing. Wouldn't that be a strange turn of events?

Sam cleared his throat and looked down at his notepad, reviewing his interview outline. "So Brittany-"

"We should have nicknames," Brittany decided, clapping her hands together in excitement as though she had every idea of whatever Sam was going to ask her, and that was definitely it. "You can be…Sam the Man," Brittany continued, pointing her pink gel pen at Sam's look of growing confusion. "Because that rhymes and rhymes are cool. And I'll be Rainbow Sparkledust, because all unicorns are required to have first and last names." She looked at Dave in confirmation, as though these were facts he actually knew. "And Dave…Dave can be Big Bear. Because everyone knows bears are mean and snappy until you hug them, and then they'll love you forever and keep you warm in bed at night with their big, snuggly goodness."

She rocked back in her chair, infinitely pleased with herself, and nodded. "And that's how hibernation works."

Dave was…ever so glad he hadn't been able to follow that. Because he would, eventually, be able to process that and then turn the appropriate shade of red, but that wouldn't be until later and Sam was looking at him now and all he had was a blatant look of confusion with an added dash of disbelief and wonder to bring it on home.

Sam looked at him for a few seconds as though considering this (of course he would be able to follow Brittany's spiel) and looked like he was about to say something before Brittany interrupted, tapping her pen against the palm of her hand.

"Can I hug him later?" Brittany asked, eyes sincere. "I like loveable teddybears and it isn't fair that you get to hog-"

"Okay Brittany!" Sam interrupted, perhaps more loudly than he needed to. "I have questions for you, which is why you're here and I'm here, so let's do that..." Sam dropped off, staring intently at the notepad in his hand. "Let's do that question-asking thing."

"Okay," Brittany replied brightly, not at all bothered by Sam's interruption and subsequent avoidance of her question. "How may I please the people of my fine nation?"

Sam, being the wise person that he was, didn't waste any time with fine details like what-the-hell-that-meant that would lead them on any other irrelevant sidetracks. He cleared his throat again and started up at his normal talking volume, sounding a bit more composed. "Have you and Mike been working on any choreography lately?"

Brittany thought about this and shrugged. "Sometimes. Sometimes he tries to convince me not to do all my homework in crayon." She leaned forward, glancing side-to-side quickly and whispered, "He's the one who switched me to gel pens. He got me an entire pack!" She sat back with a smile, flipping her pen in one hand triumphantly. "It's like a rainbow."

Sam stared at her, at a loss for words, and tilted his head to the side. "…What?"

"Like rainbows," Brittany repeated, thinking he had misheard her. After a few seconds her eyes lit up, like she discovered something, and she tilted her notebook up towards her chest, pen posed on it to begin to write something. "Have you been working on any choreography with Mike?"

"What?" Sam asked, then shook his head, trying to clear it. "No."

Brittany shrugged and began to scribble across her paper, eyebrows lifted in what was perhaps exasperation. "Well you should consider it. You're not very good."

"What?" Sam echoed, this time incredulous. "I am not-"

"No, you're not," Brittany repeated, nodding sagely, and Dave had to stifle a laugh at Sam's indignant sputter. The blond turned and threw a small glare at him, only mildly sincere, before returning his attention to Brittany. His cheeks were flushed, Dave noticed, because that was the kind of thing that he was prone to noticing.

He liked that look. Sort of.

He could do without the ill-will that instigated it though.

"So you have been dancing with Mike lately?"

"Yes." Brittany nodded but didn't take her eyes off her notebook. By the looks of it she had begun doodling a picture.

"Great," Sam replied, somewhat thrown by the fact she actually gave a straight answer. He blinked, then shook his head, checking his notes to see what his next question was. "So when you were-?"

"What's your favorite color Sam?" Brittany asked, eyes still glued on her notebook.

Sam paused, obviously thrown by the question, then furrowed his eyebrows.

Before he could go back to his standby question of "what?" Brittany continued, "It's my turn to ask a question, so what's your favorite color?"

"It is not-" Sam cut himself off as he tried to contain himself, thumping his notepad against his thigh. "That isn't how this works. I ask questions-"

"And then I ask questions and we all get to know things," Brittany finished, swirling her pen around the outside edges of her paper.

Sam blinked, flabbergasted, then set his jaw in determination. "No. It's just one-way."

"Well that's rude," Brittany replied, unimpressed with him. "And also illegal and I won't have any of it. I have freedom to preach-"

"Speech," Dave corrected automatically, earning one frustrated look of you-are-the-epitome-of-unhelpfulness from Sam and a thankful one from Brittany.

"Right," Brittany said with a nod. "You can make speeches and I can make speeches and if you're going to be bad at dancing it's only fair you tell me what your favorite color is."

Sam's fingers clutched his notepad tighter, physically twitching at the accusation. "I'm not-"

"Perhaps," Dave interrupted calmly, because if he didn't step in and play mediator soon he had a feeling there was going to be a catfight that would be very unpleasant to watch, involving way more bruises and less sexiness than desired.

Granted, the idea of fixing up Sam's wounds had a bizarre kind of appeal, but Santana would probably be displeased if so much as one scratch befell upon Brittany. So Dave would take it upon himself, from one overprotective-guy yearning for a same-sex relationship to another overprotective-girl legitimately in a same-sex relationship to put an end to this before things got ugly.

"We should just…take a few deep breaths and take turns, like Brittany proposed." Dave sent his partner-in-crime a meaningful look. "And that way everything is fair and efficient," he explained, emphasizing this last word so Sam could get a feel on how much time they had wasted.

Sam glared at him firmly for a few seconds, protesting on principal, but eventually sat back in his seat with a petulant slump. "Fine."

"Awesome," Brittany chirped, unphased by any negative energy in the room. "So Sam, what's your favorite-"

"Blue," Sam replied, his face resting in his hands, and Brittany made an um-hum noise.

"Great, what kind of blue?"

Instead of answering Sam just gave her an incredulous look, but Brittany would have none of it. "There are lots of types of blue Sam."

Sam sighed and rolled his head back, staring at the ceiling while his fingers played with the side of his chair. "I don't know. Royal, I guess."

"Okay," Brittany said, jotting this down (or, Dave supposed that was what she wrote. It could be something else entirely, for all he knew). "Hey Dave!" Brittany called, cupping one hand around her mouth. "Sam's favorite color is royal blue!"

She finished this with a bright smile and a thumbs up before turning back to her notes, which was amazing because Dave was slightly-confused/growing-very-concerned for how much Santana had told Brittany about…Dave's situation, and what of that Brittany actually perceived and applied to the magical place that was her outlook of the world.

For lack of anything better to say, Dave chose to mutter, "Thank you."

He ignored the confused look Sam gave the entire exchange and the notes that might have followed.

This was going to be a long talk.

"So," Sam started again, sounding only mildly agitated now that they were back on track. "When you and Mike were working on choreography, did he mention anything about a notebook?"

"Yes," Brittany immediately answered (and the suddenness of this answer worried Dave, along with how sure of herself she sounded). "He said it fit my personality." She tapped her pen against her bottom lip, looking down at her notebook. "What's your stance on football?"

"Good, I guess," Sam replied, looking mildly perplexed. "You know I'm on the team right?"

"Irrelevant," Brittany muttered writing his answer down. She sat back with a satisfied look and waved over to the standing jock. "So far it's looking really good for you Dave."

Happy place, happy place, Dave was in his happy place where he was unaffected by less-intellectually-gifted females trying to play wingman.

He needed to have a conversation with Santana when this was all over. A very thorough one.

"Thank you," Dave replied politely. "You said it fit your personality?"

Sam could get mad at him later for "prompting the suspect" but he really needed them to move onto the next subject, post-haste, and it looked like Sam was going to be too busy giving him and Brittany puzzled looks to remember where the interrogation had left off.

"Yes!" Brittany said cheerfully.

"And what exactly does that mean?" Sam asked, snapping out of his bewilderment.

Brittany gave him an exasperated look. "That it's me."

Dave and Sam shared a look that was less of a look and more of a silent quandary, trying to translate what Brittany was trying to communicate.

Sam looked back to the other blond first, eyebrows furrowed and expression properly puzzled. "So it's you because it's full of dance-stuff and you like dancing?"

"Of course I like dancing," Brittany replied.

When she refused to give any further answers Sam went in for the clarification. "So you liked the notebook?"

Brittany looked torn between annoyance and confusion. "Yeah, but I don't see what one has to do with the other."

There may have been some balking on Sam's part at that comment, but the blond quickly shook his head and kept focused, explaining in a calm voice, "The notebook was full of dance notes, you like dancing, so you like the notebook."

For the most part Brittany just looked surprised as Sam broke it down, reaching up to tug on the bottom end of her pony tail in an almost worried fashion. "The notebook has notes in it?"

"Yes," Sam replied tersely through clenched teeth, making an effort to take deep breaths to keep himself from being frustrated. "And you wanted to read them because you like dancing."

Brittany shook her head stubbornly; both hands now tangled in her pony, and furrowed her eyebrows. "Yeah, I like dancing but I wouldn't want to read about it. Reading's hard and dancing's easy. Why would I combine the two? It would just make dancing worse."

Sam held a hand up as though he was trying to reach out and shake her, fingers visibly shaking with restraint, but he eventually pulled it back down, shoving it into his lap. He repositioned the notepad in his hand and sighed, trying to keep collected.

It took great effort on Dave's part not to go over and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder, or show some kind of support.

But he didn't want to undermine Sam. This was his show.

His highly convoluted, ridiculously nonsensical, completely devoid of logic and reason, show, but his show none the less.

And Dave did not envy him for that.

"So you don't like the notebook?" Sam asked after a few seconds, pen pressed against his notepad as he waited for the answer, already having a feeling for what it was.

Of course, Brittany was never one to do the expected. Which, in all fairness, was something they should have come to expect by now.

"Of course I like the notebook," Brittany chirped in response, going from anxious to the epitome of joy in about half a second, looking absolutely pleased that they had asked. "It fits my personality."

Dave knew that in the next second Sam's only question would be, "What the hell does that even mean?!" which would lead them on yet another preposterous goose-chase and scrambled to think of something new to ask, something to say that would keep that would-be cat fight from coming into existence.

Thankfully, ever-so thankfully, Brittany chose to blithely carry on, holding up her own unicorn notebook by the front end and flipping through all the pages, thoughtful expression on her face. "Though I don't see any of these dance notes you keep talking about. Makes sense though," she continued, plopping the notebook down as she got back to the page she originally started writing on. "Why would Mike give me a notebook if it was already full? That's just rude."

In the few seconds Sam took to gawk at Brittany, mouth hanging slightly open, Dave made his way across the room, grabbing onto the blond's shoulder before he could erupt in a fiery burst of frustration.

"Mike gave you your unicorn notebook?" he asked, calm and reasonable, trying to move past the general ridiculousness that was Brittany. The cheerleader nodded at him, so he continued, "Okay, did you know that Mike had another notebook, a notebook that was his that he had written choreography in?"

"Mike started writing down his choreography?" Brittany asked in response, legitimately surprised by this turn of events, and Dave shared a quick look with Sam. That answered any of the questions they might have had.

Sam shrugged, letting out a quiet sigh as he began to calm down. "Yeah, but it's nothing you need to worry about."

"So he didn't start writing down his choreography?" Brittany pressed, leaning forward on the seat of her chair, urgent look on her face.

Of course, of course she would care. Mike was her buddy. Brittany took care of her buddies. So if one of them happened to be stolen from…

Dave looked back down at Sam, sharing a quick, silent communication, and made the call. It wasn't a call he particularly liked, but it was necessary none the less.

"Right," Dave said casually, nodding to Sam. He could tell the blond didn't like it either, but wasn't going to object. His nerves had already been frazzled enough for one day; he could not continue trying to handle Brittany.

"Okay," Brittany replied, brightening up instantly. If there had been any sign of worry anxiousness it was a distant memory as Brittany flipped her own notebook closed and popped up from her chair, hugging the spiral notebook close to her chest and shifting her weight from side to side, content expression on her face. "Are we done questioning?"

"Yeah," Sam replied, shaking his head slowly as he finished up his notes on Brittany. It most likely said something of "OMG no" and ended with a couple of stick figures fighting each other.

There was the slightest chance Dave had a small stack of similar stick-figure doodles in the same desk drawer he had kept the Beauty and the Beast tickets, scavenged from the many times Sam had simply discarded them, or balled them up and deemed them unworthy to grace anyone's eyes, but that was a secret Dave didn't intend on sharing with anyone.

"Then I'm off!" Brittany declared with a nod and a fist pump. With a casual spin (which Dave didn't think was possible, but hey- Brittany was magical), the blond began her exit of the room, cheerful hop in her step as she made her way towards the door. Halfway there she stopped, paused for a moment, then turned back around suddenly. A second later Dave had his arms full of Brittany, the cheerleader having thrown her arms around his shoulder and pulled him into a tight hug. She only held on for a brief moment, then stepped back, triumphant grin on her face.

"And now you love me forever too," she decided, bopping him on the nose lightly with her index finger as she said it. With that she finally left the room, breezing into the hallway with an air of joy that was probably unattainable by normal human beings.

Dave sort've…envied her for that. Like a lot.

It was like she was emotionally bulletproof.

"Well, that was a waste of time," Sam groused quietly, flopping his head back until it whacked against the top of his chair.

Unconsciously, Dave reached out and ran a hand through his hair, like he had done for his smaller cousins whenever they were feeling frustrated, eyes still locked on the door. He didn't realize what he was doing until he earned an appreciative hum from Sam, and when he looked down the blond had gone from aggravated to pleased, eyes closed and hands no longer threatening his notepad with a death hold.

Boundaries- there had to be boundaries, right? And Dave didn't want to treat Sam like a cousin he wanted-

He wanted a Brittany to his Santana.

Immediately Dave stilled his hand and withdrew it, making himself busy with putting Brittany's chair back on the riser. Behind him Sam made no comment, he simply followed in suit, putting away his own chair, and the two of them were re-backpacked up and heading for Dave's car in no time, walking in companionable silence.

"It wasn't a waste," Dave said, startling Sam as they got into the car. He ignored the confusion and moved on, adjusting his already perfectly-positioned mirrors. "We have to cover all our bases, so…"

"It wasn't a waste," Sam agreed, nodding. He studied Dave for a few more seconds, for what, Dave couldn't figure, but eventually shifted his focus to fiddling with the radio. He settled on one of his usual country, honky-tonk stations he seemed to love so much and settled back in his seat with a happy sigh, fingers drumming against the armrest on the passenger door.

And, because Dave had already surrendered to the sappy stupidity that was the state of his emotional well-being, he went ahead and thought that any time with Sam wasn't ever really a waste.

But he was allowed that thought, because he was sappy. And it wasn't like he was going to be spouting off any love songs anytime soon anyway so…

Yeah, he figured he was good. The world was good.

For now.

-:-:-:-:-:-

With Kurt off with Rachel on the prowl for new sheet music and Brittany off doing…whatever Brittany did when he wasn't tutoring her (painstakingly, ever so painstakingly tutoring her), Blaine hadn't expected anything too lively to come from his afternoon alone. He had thought that maybe he would go rehearse a few songs in the auditorium before heading home, or maybe hit the locker room to do some weight lifting (it never hurt to do a little bit extra, anything to get him in the best shape for Nationals) but other than that, there wasn't much that called for his attention.

There were no warring factions in the Glee club that needed to be appeased, no last-minute cram sessions for tests, no mid-teen crisis, senior-itus; everything had been, surprisingly enough, pretty calm for the last few weeks. After the Mike/Puck/Tina ordeal that had lasted for what was at the very least six months, everyone had just fallen into line. There was no more in-fighting or permeating sexual frustration, only…harmony.

And that was nice.

…Yeah, that was what Blaine had come to. Perceiving these quiet moments of peace as "nice" and "pleasant" and "atypical".

Sometimes Blaine missed being in a private school composed entirely of guys. It made for less drama. Not the complete abolition of the concept, of course, just…less.

Blaine made it a point though to keep his eyes open for the inevitable behavior that would shatter this small reprieve, so when he spotted Finn leaning against the wall outside of the choir room, furiously scrawling across a spiral notebook with no one around him, Blaine had the uncanny feeling that something was up.

And he had just been trying to take a shortcut to the auditorium, cut in between buildings to save himself some time. He didn't necessarily have to stop…

But Blaine couldn't, in good conscious, not stop and see what Finn was doing. He just…just a quick check-in. That was all. He'd just see what Finn was up to and then it'd turn out to be nothing and he would be on his way, boring solo-afternoon appropriately nondescript and boring as they are always were.

"So Finn," Blaine began casually, nothing nosy here, just some honest-to-goodness interest in his friend's well-being. "What are you-?"

"Text Brittany," Finn said quickly, steamrolling over any of Blaine's attempted inquisition in his hurry. "Tell her we're outside the choir room. Like, outside-outside," he clarified, waving vaguely to their surroundings for a brief moment before turning his attention back to his note-making.

"Now hold on a second," Blaine replied, hands going to his hips on reflex before he realized what he was doing and folding them across his chest instead. "I'm not doing anything-"

"Time is really of the essence here Blaine," the other teen interrupted, not even bothering to take his eyes off of his notebook as he continued his scribbling. "Gotta do a debrief while everything is still fresh in her head." Finn paused and looked thoughtful, head tilting to the side as he stewed something over, then shrugged. "Even if I was here for most of it, I need to get the beginning. You know," he shared a quick look with Blaine, the first since their conversation had begun. "Be thorough and stuff."

"What are we being thorough for?" Blaine asked, even though he shouldn't have because he just- he really wanted to know. There was no harm in knowing right? To have someone with…reasonable sanity keeping an eye on whatever this was.

Despite Finn's gruffness, Blaine whipped out his phone obediently and sent off a text to Brittany, telling her, in explicit detail, where her presence was desired.

Finn paused for another second, actually standing up fully to look Blaine in the eye. "I'm gonna level with you Blaine," he began; rolling his shoulders to work out some kinks he had gotten from his position hunched over his notebook. "Because we bonded right, during Sectionals? We both want the same thing."

"And that's…" Blaine prompted, waving his hand for Finn to fill in the blank, and the other teen happily obliged him.

"No more fighting," Finn replied. "No more problems, no more issues, just-"

"Harmony," Blaine finished, feeling a flood of relief wash over him as Finn nodded. Good, Finn was just…trying to be cautious, like Blaine was.

"Exactly," Finn chirped, then motioned down to his notes. "I'm thinking Sam and Dave actually have a case for their detective business thing, but they're investigating us so-"

"Do you think there's a problem in the Glee club?" Blaine asked, legitimately worried. He knew Kurt and Mike had been scheming over some plans or something to help Dave out the past couple of weeks, but Kurt had refused to let him in on anything. If things were going well for Dave, that was great but…

Blaine didn't like this investigating-the-glee-club business. These were pretty touchy people, excessively prone to overreactions. And then overreactions to those overreactions.

Blaine was just concerned, was all. It was a perfectly valid feeling to have.

"Maybe," Finn replied, shrugging. Any further conversation was literally cut off when Brittany skipped between them, gracing Finn with a quick solute and Blaine with a smile, turning her torso to look back and forth between the two of them as she clutched a sparkling notebook to her chest.

"I did good," she declared, and Blaine had to restrain himself from correcting her grammar, it would only devolve the conversation and it certainly wouldn't take.

He turned his attention to Finn instead, intent to see what he had to say and perhaps become further enlightened.

"Yeah, you did." Finn agreed, smiling at her. "Now, if you could just cover everything that happened before they asked you-?"

"Is Blaine playing with us too?" Brittany asked, studying the shorter male intently, hand rubbing against her chin in a portrait of thoughtfulness. "Because if he isn't he should probably go. This is highly classified information Harry Potter."

"Brittany, I told you to stop calling me that," Blaine replied, trying not to sound long suffered, and made a quick decision. If he was in, he was in for the long haul, for all of the insanity.

But if he was out…

It wasn't that he didn't trust Finn, because he did. He just thought that…well, maybe there should be a guiding force or something. A voice of reason.

A chaperone, his mind supplied for him, but Blaine shook the thought off.

He was simply doing what was civically responsible. Being a good friend. Making sure Finn and Brittany didn't cause more damage than Sam and Dave did.

You know, the small things.

"And yes," Blaine continued. "I am playing with you."

"Awesome," Brittany chirped, giving him a bright smile before turning it to Finn.

The taller teen, for the most part, looked pleased by the newest addition and smiled back, satisfied. "Great, but remember, outside the three of us…"

"No one must know," Brittany finished, ending this declaration with a swivel of her index finger.

They both turned to look at Blaine expectantly and the other teen yielded, deciding to go along with those rules, for now. "No one must know," he echoed.

This would probably come back to haunt him later, but if he was lucky, it would only come back to bite him a little bit. Which was, at this point, really all he could ask for.

"Okay then," Finn replied, clapping a hand against his thigh. "Let's get debriefing."

"Santana says we can only do that in private," Brittany said informatively, eyes wide and Finn, to his credit, simply went with the flow.

"Different kind of debriefing," Finn explained.

As they made their way towards the parking lot they decided they would meet up at the Lima Bean to finish their "debriefing" and start making plans. If all went well, this entire ordeal would turn out to be incredibly harmless. In the best circumstances they would simply have an entertaining story to tell at the end of the day.

And if not…

Well, that wasn't something Blaine was going to think about.

Chapter Text

It was ultimately decided by Finn and Brittany that the Lima Bean was far too public a place for them to share the delicate details of their newest assignment.  Blaine had tried to protest because it wasn’t like anybody ever really cared about what the gleekids were doing, especially not enough to eavesdrop on them (unless it was their parents maybe, but they were easy enough to spot what with being their parents).  Finn’s house was vetoed on the grounds that Sam, the person they were semi-investigating, shared a room with him, so eventually they all ended up at Brittany’s nursing their lattes and frappes or, in Brittany’s case, ultimate hot cocoas with extra whip cream and rainbow sprinkles.

Blaine hadn’t even been aware the Lima Bean had rainbow sprinkles.  In fact, he was almost certain they didn’t, and that they just keep shaker full underneath the counter on the off-hand chance Brittany showed up.  Probably for fear of Santana’s wrath.

Blaine settled into an overstuffed armchair by Brittany’s bed, trying not to wince at the painful late-80’s style motif her room had taken on and reached into his backpack, digging out a notebook of his own since that appeared to be the thing to do.  Finn and Brittany already had their respective notebooks open, splaying the pages across Brittany’s colorful bedspread and contemplating them thoughtfully.  Or, Finn was.  Brittany seemed to be entertaining herself by finishing a picture of a pirate…cat, maybe, she had started earlier. 

“Okay, so what I’m getting from all this,” Finn began, tapping his pencil’s eraser against the front of his notes. “Is that Mike had like a…dance book thing that got stolen from…wherever he had it.  And I think Sam and Dave suspect that one of us did it.”

“But why?” Blaine asked, frowning around the top of his to-go cup. “Lot’s of people know Mike’s great at dancing.  There are plenty of other suspects that would be more probable.”

Blaine really wished Kurt had let him in on at least a little of his secret planning.  If he knew what his boyfriend was trying to do he could help steer Britt and Finn in the proper direction.  Then again, Mike losing a choreography book could really just be a coincidence, and he and Kurt’s matchmaking plans for Dave and Sam could be something else entirely, which still left the problem of stolen personal property. 

Finn chewed on his lip, then gave a shrug. “Maybe they’re trying to cover all their bases, make sure none of us did it so they could move on to the real suspects.”

Blaine took another sip of his latte and considered this.  Briefly.  Because it only took him that long to realize that there was a slight flaw in this plan.  “Did any of us even know Mike had a choreography book?”

Finn paused over his notes, pencil mid-stroke, and gave Blaine a confused look that was quickly conquered by realization, metaphoric light bulb going on over his head.  He waved his hand above Brittany’s doodle, effectively capturing her attention.  “Britt, that’s why they interviewed you.  They were trying to see if you knew about it!”

“But I didn’t,” Brittany explained, minute pout pulling at the corner of her lips.  “And besides that, Mike doesn’t write his choreography down.  He just knows it.”

“So wait,” Finn said, running a hand through his hair while he attempted to get a handle on the situation.  “They’re searching for a thing Mike doesn’t actually…have?”

“He shouldn’t,” Brittany replied lightly, giving a casual shrug.  “He always said his notes wouldn’t make sense to anyone else anyway, and that’s all they would be for because he doesn’t need them.”

“So Mike doesn’t have a notebook?” Blaine asked, leaning forward in his chair, his own spiral notebook sliding to the edge of his lap. “Then why would they be looking for-” 

“Unless someone made him!” Brittany exclaimed, bouncing up quickly from her perch on the bed and sending her collection of gel pens flying onto the floor.  “What if someone forced him guys?  Or what if they were secret?!”  She gasped, pressing her palms against both sides of her face, eyes wide in what could only be amazement.  “What if he decided to try something new because he had so many dances and he didn’t want to forget any of them because they are his babies and it’s a crime to forget your babies!  But he’s shy and it’s a secret so he kept them secret because he didn’t want anyone to steal them and then someone stole them!”

She bounced on the balls of her feet, swiveling to stare back and forth between Finn and Blaine in wonder, sadness creeping into her eyes at the thought of her friend’s misfortune. 

“Guys,” she whispered, clamping both hands over her mouth between bouts of speaking, as though their ears could not handle this marvelously epic notion she was about to bestow upon them.  “He had a secret notebook.”

Which…kind’ve made sense?  Blaine wasn’t sure, though it did support it being just a coincidence.  He didn’t know Mike very well, but he did know that he was incredibly passionate about his work, and guarded it fiercely.  Up to this point, what Brittany said made sense, Mike never taught them anything from a notebook.  But if he didn’t want to forget anything, it made sense for Mike to keep his notes to himself.

Though that did beg the question…

“If it was a secret, how would anyone know to take it?” Finn asked, mind following the same trail as Blaine.

“Maybe that’s why they’re focused on the glee club,” Blaine suggested, snapping his free hand.  “Maybe they figured Mike had spoken to one of us about the notebook in confidence-”

“But why would any of us take it?” Finn exclaimed, eyes shifting over to Brittany’s nightstand where his frappe rested.  His eyes were sad, like he could no longer take comfort in its caramel-ly goodness.  “We’re all friends, why would someone do that to Mike?”

“To antagonize him?” Blaine suggested.

“To antaga-whatever Puck,” Finn replied, tapping his pencil against his bottom lip while he nodded thoughtfully. 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Blaine said, waving a hand to put a halt on their train of hypotheses.  “We’re ignoring the actually knowing part.  Someone either convinced Mike that he should start writing his stuff down or someone…” he trailed off, eyes widening at the more likely solution, then glanced back and forth between Finn and Brittany. “Maybe someone made a comment that made Mike want to write his stuff down.  But instead of just being some off-hand thing that was their intention all along, and then they took his notes.”

“How would they know he made it though?” Finn asked, erasing some of his past notes furiously and rescribbling over them, trying to keep it as legible as possible.  “Did they spy on him?”

“I don’t know,” Blaine sighed, flopping his head back against his (surprisingly) comfy chair. “All we have is a notebook that wouldn’t normally exist somehow existing anyway, and we can’t figure out why, except that it’s a secret, and we can’t figure out how anyone would know the secret at all except obviously someone did because Dave and Sam are investigating everyone-”

“Why wouldn’t Dave and Sam know who it was?”  Finn asked, startling Blain off of his ramble.  “If Mike told somebody wouldn’t Mike have like, mentioned that to them?  Why would they need to interview Brittany?”

“Do you think Mike asked them to?” Blaine replied, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.  None of this was making any sense.  Granted, some of their base knowledge came from Brittany, but she seemed so certain the Mike would never write his choreography down.

“It’s a conspiracy,” Brittany muttered, reorganizing her colored pens across her bedspread while the other two exchanged theories.  At their combined looks of confusion and intrigue, Brittany shrugged.  “It has to be.  None of us want to hurt each other anymore right?  So maybe instead of taking Mike’s notes for evil, someone took them for good.”  She nodded her head quickly, as though confirming it to herself, and reached for her hot chocolate. “Santana steals things all the time, which is bad, but she makes it good by doing good things with them.  Like giving them to me.”  She took a sip of her beverage and shrugged. “So maybe someone wanted to do good for Mike, but they had to make him sad first.”

“That is…” Blaine dropped off, shaking his head slightly as he tried to wrap his brain around that suggestion.  It wasn’t happening, not really, but he thought he could grasp the general gist of it.  “Highly improbable.”

“That means unlikely right?” Finn asked, staring at Blaine intently now that he was done stewing over Brittany’s declaration.  Blaine nodded and he continued, starting to look more confident.  “Except with us the most unlikely thing is like, the one with the greatest odds of happening.  Like…” Finn trailed off, looking up towards the ceiling as he attempted to think of some examples.  “Oh!  Like that time we tried to sell all those cupcakes to raise money and no one bought any the first day and then like, boom, everyone loved them and we sold out.  Or that time when the only people that showed up for our benefit concert was the heckling club.  Like, not even any of our parents made it, or the band’s parents or the orchestra’s parents and that’s a lot of kids for not a lot of parents.  That’s improbable right?  Or how about that time Mike and Puck went on this crazy adventure in New York just to find an accordion so they could back me up with ‘Bella Note’ at the end of my date with Rachel, or the fact that Puck even knows how to play the accordion at all.”  Finn smiled brightly, sharing a high-five with Brittany on the completion of his speech and beamed at the other male teen.  “Dude, our friends like, thrive on improbability-ness.” 

“I uh…don’t know half of what you’re talking about,” Blaine admitted, fidgeting under Finn’s blaring enthusiasm.  “Most likely happened before I got here, but I get what you’re saying.”

Except that last part with the accordion, but that was old news to just about everyone in the glee club. 

“Good,” Brittany chirped, pumping a fist as she stared down at her drawing, trying to figure out which side to shade next.  “Because he’s only gonna say it one time.”

“I uh…” Blaine trailed off and shared a look with Finn, one that clearly said the taller teen didn’t care how many times he had to repeat something but they should go along with Brittany’s declaration anyway, for time reasons. 

“So,” Blaine restarted, clearing his throat as he gestured to their multitude of notebooks.  “What do we do now?”

Finn thought about this, then nodded.  “We should keep an eye on the people who would want to do nice things for Mike.”

“Like his girlfriend and boyfriend?” Blaine prompted, neatly taking down these notes.  “Should we watch for secret dance rehearsals too?  Someone could be trying to bring his dances to life.”

He couldn’t believe he was saying all this honestly, this stuff…this was bizarre but…well, Kurt and all the others had taken a shot at whacky, unrealistic side-adventures.

It was Blaine’s turn to have one too. 

“Couldn’t hurt,” Finn said.  He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, considering for a moment before he reached across Brittany and retrieved his frappe, deciding he had finally earned it. 

“So basically we just have to make sure Sam and Dave don’t do any lasting damage,” Blaine summarized, keeping them all on the same page.  “Since we’re on the side that this missing book is a good thing…”

“We should also keep on our toes just in case it’s…you know, not,” Finn offered. 

“It is,” Brittany insisted, sending Finn a small glare at the gall he had to even suggest it.  “It has to be, we’re all friends.  And friends don’t do mean things to each other.”

“You know my best friend got my girlfriend pregnant once, right?”  Finn asked, frowning around his straw at the memory.

Brittany shrugged.  “Friends don’t do mean things to Mike.”

“But what about Puck?” Finn countered, setting his frappe back down on the nightstand.  “They could be trying to get to him through Mike.”

“Oh God,” Blaine muttered, rolling his head back as the other two’s bickering began to wash over him as they chased each other in conversational circles.  “We’re going to be here all night.”

Three hours later they came to the undeniable conclusion that they were the worst theorists ever and had gotten unsurprisingly nowhere, excluding whatever small steps forward they had made in the initial fifteen minutes.  By the end of it Finn had taken to ripping out most of the pages he had written that afternoon (except for the ones from Sam and Dave’s interview), Brittany was rubbing Lord Tubbington to “will the confusion away”, and Blaine had a marvelously stunning headache.

By the end of it they decided to forgo thinking altogether and elected to start tailing Sam and Dave.  It would be much easier on their sanity if they just let them deal with all the work. 

Survival of the fittest, and all that.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

When they actually got the point where Mike’s father accepted the fact that the garden lattice wall right under Mike’s window was forever going to be used as Puck’s personal ladder, entirely because of his bizarrely strong aversion to doors, Mike figured he was pretty much the winning-est winner who ever lived.  Sure, his parents still viewed his dual relationships with Puck and Tina with tight smiles and mild confusion, probably waiting for what they perceived as the inevitable end to a phase, but they didn’t outright condemn it, so Mike figured that had to count for something.  They were accepting, in a small way, establishing the same rules for Puck that they had with Tina, enforced curfews, no sleepovers when they were both on business trips (which was often broken, but still), treat him with respect, etc., the whole nine yards. 

They embraced that much.  Or at least, they were clinging to the standards and rules they had always known to bring them a measure of comfort, something to ground themselves on in the changing winds, but either way, Mike didn’t care.  At the end of the day he still had Puck and Tina in a comfortable pile on his bed, him and Puck trying out Minecraft co-op on his X-box while Tina contented herself with a book, only pausing to laugh at their lack of coordination. 

All-in-all, a pretty good day. 

He was in the middle of crafting some more torches (because Puck could not grasp the fact that light equaled no monsters, so Mike had to keep running around and lighting any of the areas his boyfriend wandered into) whenever he felt his cell going off in his pocket, appropriately switched to vibrate after the last time Puck made fun of his ringtone. 

Scrunching his nose, Mike reached into his pocket and whipped out his phone, plopping his controller on top of Tina’s book as he did so.  At her semi-annoyed stare he motioned for her to continue in his stead (she couldn’t be that much worse than Puck) and then pointed to his phone, indicating that he was occupied. 

At her continued pout, Puck scoffed, smiling in satisfaction as his character discovered some iron ore.  “You can play for a few minutes Lady Chang.  Surely, this is not too big a challenge for you.”

“Oh, I’ll show you a challenge,” Tina warned, picking up the controller with a smirk and turning to face the television.  While the torches finished crafting she leaned over and squeezed Puck’s side, his only minor-ticklish spot, and the mohawked-teen batted a hand at her in response, eyes forward on the screen but smile bright on his face.

Sam’s name flashed on Mike’s caller ID which could be…well, literally anything.  Most likely it had to do with The Case.  Capitalization intended, Kurt insisted, since it was the cover title for Operation Dave –and-Sam-FO’-LIFE.  Or…for high school.  Whatever, the point remained. 

Mike frowned, then switched his phone on, picking up the line.  “What’s up Sam?”

The blond sounded mildly annoyed when he answered.  “You know, it could be someone else.”

“Well then, they would probably tell me,” Mike replied, voice full of levity.

On the screen Tina kept getting the select-item and throw-item buttons confused, and the petite Asian cursed as she accidentally threw Mike’s wooden hoe against a wall, for what had to be the seventh time. 

“Whatever,” Sam huffed.  “I’ve got some questions about the you-know-what.  Are you alone?”

As if on cue Puck let out a long string of profanities, quickly backpedaling up the mine he had created as a spider popped in to view, trying to attack him in its eight-legged ferocity.  Would probably be super effective too, considering how Puck had refused to put any armor on. 

“Uh…” Mike mumbled, trying to think of a good way to counter Sam’s solid exhale. “Can’t we just…ule-ray hem-tay ut-oay?”

“Rule who out?” Tina asked, simultaneous with Sam’s predictably confused “What?” on the other end of the line.

Mike fought not to pout at his failed foray into Pig Latin. 

“Multiple choice question,” Mike explained, trying to think of a good lie that covered what they were talking out that also wouldn’t invoke Tina’s wrath later.  You know, in case she found out about it.  “Ruling out the bad answers.”

“In Pig Latin,” she replied flatly, not quite believing it (which wasn’t all that surprising, as she was mostly draped across Mike’s body and could feel his sudden tension.)

Maybe he should tell her…no, Kurt had been explicitly clear on that.  The less people that knew, the more authentic it could be.

“We’re working on it,” he said, giving a few coughs to clear his throat.

“Nice one,” Sam’s voice chirped in his ear, sounding legitimately impressed despite his agitation.

“I try,” Mike muttered.  “Now what about your other questions…”

Fine,” Sam groused, surrendering once he realized Mike had no intention of parting from his current company.  “I just need to know one thing.  Was your notebook private?”

“…what?” Mike asked after a moment of befuddled silence, trying to figure out exactly what Sam was getting at.

The blond pressed onward.  “Was it private?  Did you not-want people to see it?  Was it only meant for your eyes?  Was-?”

A million things raced through Mike’s head as the questions continued.  Okay, realistically it was more like five, but still, Mike’s mind was in a flurry.  How should he respond?  What was Sam thinking?  What would narrow down the least amount of suspects?  Why was Sam asking this?  Did he have a theory?  Did that theory support the crime-committer being in the glee club- of course it did because it was private and that’s why- so he should- there should be words now, yes, that would be good-

Yes!” Mike shouted, a little more enthusiastically than strictly necessary but still not disrupting his partners, who had taken his random outbursts in stride; barely even noticed them anymore.

He wasn’t sure how that made him feel.  No, scratch that, he did know. 

It made him feel cozy.  Cozy and loved.

“Yes,” he muttered again, quieter, but all he could hear on the other end of the line was Sam’s quiet ah-hum-ings as he wrote Mike’s answer down.  “So what does that-?”

“That really narrows it down,” Sam replied, not even hearing him.  “Thanks for your help Mike; I really think we’re going to find this thing soon.”

“But-” Mike began to protest, but the blond had already hung up on him, moving on to bigger and better things.

Damn.  It narrowed it down?  Mike needed to call Dave, see what was going on.  What were they going to do when Sam got to the end of the line and found out the notebook didn’t even exist?  He would be…

An idea, slow but certain, came upon Mike, causing the dancer to drop his cell phone onto his nightstand carelessly, really giving his plan some consideration.  The notebook didn’t have to necessarily not exist.  It wasn’t like he couldn’t whip up a book full of stupid dance moves in an hour, or even half of one, that would still be enough.  He had spare notebooks.  Hell, Puck would be all over an opportunity to doodle on something else, might even feel especially loved that Mike had made a request…

Mike reached over the side of his bed, ignoring Tina’s sounds of protest at his movement, and dug around the bottom, shelf-like portion of his nightstand, where he kept all his spare supplies.  He had picked a red notebook for the cover story for this exact reason, because he actually had one, and-

“Puck,” he said, smiling brightly as he discovered his blank notebook, pulling a sharpie out of his drawer for his boyfriend to draw with.  “I have a request.”

“Save it for later,” Puck mumbled, eyes focused entirely on the screen in front of him. 

“But Puuuuck,” Mike pouted, staring forlornly at the side of his boyfriend’s face.  “It’s important.”

“Later,” Puck muttered, resolutely not looking his way.

Puuuuck,” Mike whined, full out whined.  He tilted his head in the other’s direction, making it so that he was peering up at him with the saddest, most doting eyes. 

Eventually, the other teen sighed and made the mistake of looking over, intending to send the dancer an annoyed half-lidded look and immediately freezing once he caught sight of the expression on Mike’s face.  He paused, conflicted, and a second later he sighed, throwing the controller down and reaching over Tina for the proffered notebook and sharpie, settling them into his lap with a couple of grumbles. 

“Fine,” Puck muttered, uncapping the marker with his teeth.  “What do you want?”

“Make it a dinosaur,” Mike chirped, batting his eyes at his boyfriend playfully before snatching up his controller, ignoring the minor gripes he received in protest at the action. 

He smirked and maybe (okay, definitely) stuck his tongue out in response, turning his attention to the screen with a satisfied smile as he got back to work on the Heb-asian City.  They had been doing really well that day, despite their minor conflicts with teamwork.  He had a feeling he could finish up the outer houses of the metropolis by the end of the night.  All would be well. 

Mike’s joy lasted for half a second before he realized that their entire fortress, their main basecamp, was on fire, and that Tina’s character (as in, his character) had also taken to the flames, beating at them with a shovel unsuccessfully while her avatar grunted in pained protest.

“How…?” Mike began to ask, frantically looting through the untouched chests for water buckets.

“I didn’t know it was flammable,” Tina griped, as though that explained it all. 

Though, in a way in kind of did, if he added his fifty some-odd torches he had gifted Tina’s inventory to her throwing/selecting confusion. 

Sort of brought that one on himself.

Beside her Puck gave a knowing smirk, making careful strokes with his marker as he took satisfaction in Mike’s disbelief.  “Your problem now.”

Mike stared at the screen, then down at his controller, and eventually settled back on Puck.  “Can it be my problem later?”

“Nope.”

Miiiike,” Tina replied, her (his) character now entirely surrounded by flames.  “A little help?”

They should…Stone.  That was the lesson of the day.  Build shit with stone, not wood. 

With a belabored sigh, Mike looked back to the screen.  His windows had been properly destroyed too.  He had been proud of those windows.  “Okay.”

“Don’t sound so excited,” Puck drawled sarcastically.  “You’re the one that gave her a controller.”

Before Mike could reply, Tina frowned up at him, pouting. “I didn’t know it was flammable!”

“You know,” Mike said, interrupting whatever smart comment Puck had waiting in reply.  Because there was one, and it would be harmless, but still- “I like us.”

There was a pause, both of them a little thrown by that non sequitur, but eventually Puck shrugged. 

“I like us too.”

“Me three!” Tina chirped, immediately cheerful. 

It just…it felt like the right thing to say. 

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

Sam smiled, flipping his phone shut with an air of triumph that mere mortals could never hope to match because he, Sam Evans, was making huge progress with his and Dave’s very first case.  There were several things to celebrate in, huge things really, things he never thought in a million years would have happened but like…did.  Whatever, so he wasn’t the best with words.  The point was that Sam pretty much sat on top of the world at the moment, with several ridiculously awesome factors working in his favor.

Number one, and most important, was the fact that Dave had decided to go along with his detective agency idea.  Which was…yeah, that was awesome.  And it wasn’t just like that “Yeah, okay, whatever” half-assed business that Dave could be doing just to humor Sam, because this really didn’t seem like Dave’s kind of thing.  But like, he was into it, contemplating their mysteries with quiet intensity and thoughtfulness and that was…that was cool.  That he actually did it.  Sam was afraid he would have to resort to Mike or Puck or something because it was more their speed, but with them being all busy with…well, each other nowadays…

It wasn’t that Same didn’t think to ask Dave first, because he did.  Because while Sam liked Artie and Rory and Joe, and he liked spending time with Finn and Blaine (and even Kurt, whenever the other teen was willing to deal with him), Dave was like…he was chill, you know? 

Maybe Sam liked him because they both sort’ve had baggage.  Sam had already been out of his element whenever he’d initially moved to McKinley; he hadn’t quite been a nerd at his old school but had never managed to hang out with the popular kids because he was, undoubtedly, a nerd on the inside.  Thank God for people’s superficiality; his moderately good looks and rockin’ abs had managed to keep him off the radar of any close-minded hecklers.  Which was cool, he could work with that, but when he got to McKinley he was stuck with the title “new kid”, and that never did anyone favors.  Not an easy thing to work with.  He tried to be cool, tried to keep a low profile, but he just…he still wanted to have fun, be true to himself.  Hell, you only lived once, might as well enjoy it.

So he joined the glee club, knowing the risks of potential hazing, and didn’t regret it.  It was alright being an outcast, so long as he got to do what he loved with people who cared about him.  Who didn’t make him try to change. 

And then there was the homelessness and the homesickness, but that wasn’t really the important part.  Well, it was, for the baggage thing, but Sam was moving on to different points.  Like, the no-compromising self-image business.

Maybe that was what Dave liked about Sam, because Sam was in on the whole…liking dudes thing, and Sam didn’t care.  Honestly, he was kind’ve glad; that meant Karofsky had been acting like a dick for a reason.  Not a great one, but there was one, at least.

It was a little sad, when he thought about it, because Dave had been like Sam in the beginning too.  Just wanted to stay off of the bully hit-list, go with the status quo, to not like, own up to all of himself because not everyone liked all the parts of him.

And that sucked.  A guy like Dave (non-bullying Dave, the regular guy, who Sam hung out with) shouldn’t have to deal with that crap.  Shouldn’t have to be afraid of his own friends.  And clearly he was.  Clearly.  But he couldn’t let go because they were his friends, but he still couldn’t tell them.  Because if he did, if they knew, they would probably turn on him instantly, as horrible an idea as that was.  They would just throw all those years of friendship aside like it was nothing and they probably wouldn’t care all that much.  Hell, they would probably be happy, because Dave had the gall to color outside the lines of their cookie cutter world, so clearly they were better off without him. 

It made Sam pissed just thinking about it.  Made him mad that Dave had been so scared and desperate he had threatened to kill Kurt, and that he really, really hated himself for all of it.

Sam could see that much, that quiet loathing.  Not just for the…liking-guys thing, but because of how Dave had reacted to it.

That was how Sam had been able to tell that Dave was legitimately a nice guy, under all that gruffness.  And he was distinctly refreshing, compared to all the glee club kids.  Like this giant rock of passive calmness, contemplating the world with the reason and logic of a normal seventeen year old guy and just…laid back, really.  Nice.  Dave was nice. 

Which had been so weird to Sam, because ‘nice’ and ‘calm’ didn’t really fit in with his click.  It had been so obvious at the “ Puck/Mike Intervention”, as Tina liked to call it, that he was kind’ve this amused spectator of their madness that had obviously gotten sucked in on accident, because he didn’t fit in with all the outlandish theatrics of the New Directions kids.

And yet, because of that very fact, he fit in just perfectly.  He was unique among the group of people that thrived on individuality. 

Sam liked Dave’s calmness, his sense of reason.  It was comforting.  Because Dave understood the words Sam was saying and could translate them to the real world, considering them briefly and offering alternatives.  He just- he got Sam, and despite the fact Sam wasn’t the uh…smartest guy in the world, and kind’ve had a short attention span, and liked testing out his impressions almost all the time, Dave still liked to hang out with him. 

And Sam really liked to hang out with Dave.  Because Dave was like a big… teddy bear, in Brittany’s words.  He acted all mean but once you were “hugged”, you got “loved”.

As weird as it sounded, Sam sort’ve liked being “loved” by Dave.  It meant there was this really awesome guy that didn’t want anything from him except for friendship, and Sam could handle friendship.

There were a great deal of things Sam wasn’t good at, but being a friend was not one of them. 

Even if he was starting to become slightly… territorial (because he had seen Dave first (okay, so Mike had, but still-) so he should come first, that didn’t seem unfair), Sam would be a good friend.  No, scratch that, a great friend.  An even better one than Azimio (even though that wouldn’t be too hard). 

In all honestly, Sam’s only competition at this point was Mike, and seeing as he was too busy having big kissy-face piles with his boyfriend and girlfriend, that pretty much left Sam as the undisputed champion of Dave’s friendship.

…not that it was a competition.

But if it was, Sam won.

That was indisputable.    

But…even in all this, Sam couldn’t help but view Dave as “normal”.  Because hey, in his neck of the woods, Dave was about as normal as you could get.  And that wasn’t bad, that was what Sam liked about him; see above, it just…

It made Sam wonder why Dave hung out with him, sometimes.  Not like, not all the time, because clearly, Sam equaled most-winning-friend, but like-

With the detective thing.  Sam didn’t think Dave would go along with it, at all.  In fact he had only brought it up as a joke, partially hoping anything would come from it but sincerely doubtful, intended to make Dave do that thing where he smiled and shook his head slowly as though to say oh-you-and-your-silly-Sam-antics that he seemed to do for Mike all the damn time.  Did Sam want to do it?  Yes, because he and Rory had gone on a Sherlock Holmes/James Bond kick and done a marathon over at Brittany’s, the cheerleader joining them to alternate between tossing popcorn at their heads and commenting on James Bond’s hair, holding Lord Tubbington up so that he could get a proper view of the television screen.  Their marathon had left Sam pumped over solving some mysteries, because life was short right? But he didn’t think anything would come of it. 

When Dave had just looked at him in response to his suggestion, studying the blond carefully with an expressionless look on his face, Sam almost thought he was close to being dumped.  As a friend.  Friend-dumped.  He wanted to find a way to shove the words back into his mouth, just, take them back, say he was stupid and laugh it off, a ha-ha-dumb-blond-is-doing-dumb-blond-things moment that sometimes made Sam hurt inside, when he caught them, but he was willing to do it to prevent his sure to be friend-dumping. 

A moment later, when Dave eventually shrugged and replied, “Sure, I’ll ask around.” Sam had been…shocked, was a good way to say it.

It didn’t nearly come close to explaining how ridiculously surprised Sam had been that he had not only retained his friendship status, but that Dave had agreed, but it was still a nice word. 

Dave had agreed.  Dave had agreed and actually set out, without Sam’s prompting, to find them a case.  And then he actually found a case, for them to work on, while Sam freaked out and did some frantic studying and started making an outline as to how to start an investigation so he wouldn’t look too (incredibly) stupid whenever he met back with Dave to start the actual case they actually had. 

Sam didn’t…he didn’t know how to feel about it.  Because this, this was how he lived all the time, with these crazy quests and Mike-shenanigans and interventions and ridiculous, unconventional things just dropping into his life one after the other, all this drama that had just become the standard for how he lived, but it wasn’t like that for Dave.  And sometimes he wondered, what if Dave was just in it for the excitement?  Not even in it for Sam at all, but just…so he could be himself, but he could also be himself and do crazy things he would never have done before, for the same why-the-hell-not reason Sam did and…

It was stupid. 

Sam had to tell himself that on a daily basis because it was stupid.  Dave risked his neck for not only Sam, but for the entire glee club by distracting the jocks for them.  Sam hadn’t asked him to do that, he just did.  Because he was a nice guy, underneath it all.  And nice guys, guys like Dave, they didn’t…they wouldn’t use Sam.  Not just for a laugh.  It would be way too much effort for a joke that wasn’t even that funny. 

Dave was Sam’s friend.  And it wasn’t just because Sam knew his secret, and Dave could be himself around Sam without worrying or whatever, it was because Dave liked hanging out with Sam.

It wasn’t because his new pal Mike was suddenly occupied or anything, and Sam was just an easy replacement.

Nope, not that at all. 

And it wasn’t like Sam would ever ask Dave that anyway, it would be insulting.  And like…majorly pathetic.  So he wouldn’t do that thing.

Dave was just a guy after all, just another guy friend.  Sam had plenty of those, and all of them were awesome. 

And maybe he was thinking about this stuff so much because Dave was new and he was…not crazy, so it made sense, for Sam to focus so much of his attention on it. 

See, logic.  That was totally reasonable.

But it-

Nah, Sam was just being stupid.  Which he excelled at, but still, he needed to get back on task.  He was a winner.  He was victorious.  He had not only successfully crossed Brittany off their list of suspects, but he narrowed down their primary suspects pool, all by himself without even having to brainstorm with Dave about it or anything.  He did good.

No, he did great.

Dave would be so proud of him, being all like…intuitive and stuff.  Taking initiative.

With the notebook going into the realm of “personal”, that moved Kurt and Puck to the top of their suspect list (with Rachel hovering in the wings) and yeah, they had already been on the top before, but at least now Quinn and Sugar could be pushed down onto the secondary investigation list due to their motives of “insanity”. 

Yeah, Sam was good.  And he would just keep telling himself for as long as he needed to hear it.  He figured out after awhile that the person who would be the most patient with himself was himself, so if anyone was going to be his cheerleader, it would be him.

And no one could criticize him for that.

No one.

Chapter Text

Despite whatever eccentricities her friends believed motivated Rachel's more…extreme behavior, she would like the record to show that she was not, in fact, snooping. Not that it was against her nature, because for whatever reason most of the people she knew tended to neglect mentioning certain happenings to her as they occurred, forcing her to delve into the territories of snooping just so she wouldn't get left behind on the current events of her social group. It wasn't something she was proud of, but she knew that some viewed her as too loud or abrasive or willful so it was understandable that she would pose as an intimidating figure when it came to sharing the latest gossip. She was simply too strong. There was nothing wrong with that.

But even with that fresh in her mind, Rachel could honestly say she hadn't been snooping. It had not been her intention.

Kurt had invited her over for a girl's night, helping her comb through her newest heap of fashion magazines to pick out potential candidates for a prom dress. All they needed were ten or so more dresses before they could pit them against each other tournament style, weighing her options against each other until there was only one dress left. She and Kurt had already prepared a poster board for this activity; the dresses that were already selected fixed into position, there were just a few more holes to fill. Of course, the night would end with facials and manicures, with a constant stream of soap operas playing in the background as indication of what acting techniques she and Kurt should avoid learning, as was usual for their girl nights.

Though that was all put on hold when Kurt got a very pressing phone call from Brittany, and now he was patiently listening to his cell phone, a confused cheerleader on the other end of the line seeking his guidance for…something or other. Rachel wasn't really sure, she hadn't snooped-

She hadn't…chatted with the blond teenager lately. Perhaps she should rectify that situation.

When it became obvious that the conversation wasn't going to end anytime soon Rachel ducked out the door, deciding to go down to the kitchen to refill her drink. She paused by Finn's room, now empty as her fiancé and Sam were over at Mike's playing video games. It was bizarrely lifeless without them there, but also…lonely. Silly to think that, she knew. The room was vacant, of course it would feel empty, but it was just such a large contrast to the near constant stream of boisterous life Sam and Finn filled it with it couldn’t help but be noted.

Poetic observations aside, the room was a bit of a mess, with clothes strewn across the floor and books spilling out of the two boy's backpacks and obviously, she couldn't in good conscious just leave it that way. Rachel would just… tidy up a bit, nothing radical, just, make the room a bit more comfortable and organized. Everyone liked organization, it made things easier to find. It would be a nice little surprise for Finn and Sam whenever they came home. A little something to let them know she was thinking about him (and Sam too, she supposed).

It just so happened that when Rachel got around to organizing the books in Finn's backpack (because stacking the books smallest to largest made it easier to carry, everyone knew that) she accidentally stumbled upon…well, she wasn't sure what it was. The notebook had been splayed open, haphazardly leaning against the backpack and the floor. Usually she wouldn't have noticed it or paid it any attention because these were Finn's private things and she didn't snoop (on Finn), were it not for the fact that the hastily scrawled writing looked a bit like a script.

And with that discovery how could she possibly not give it a look? If Finn was finally exploring other outlets for his creativity like Rachel had been pressing him to how could she simply turn a blind eye? Playwriting, or maybe it was for a short film, it didn't matter, she was just so proud he had given it a try. He probably hadn't told her because he wanted it to be a surprise, or maybe he was feeling unsure of his skill and had kept it a secret until he had it perfect, but if that were the case then Rachel could put his mind at ease right now by reading it herself. After that she could give him some light criticism mixed with a follow up of moral support, perhaps convince him to write in a strong, female lead. Obviously, it would do Finn a load more of good for her to read it so she could allay his fears. It was for the best.

This decided, Rachel quickly flipped back to the start of the scene, where Finn had hurriedly scribbled the title "B- Interrog.".

She briefly wondered what meaning the "B" possessed. Was this an alternate route for the scene? Or simply the second one, with "A" preceding it?

Whatever, she would figure it out later. For now Rachel would focus on the second half of the title. Clearly, it was an abbreviation for something that Finn had felt too pressed for time to bother spelling out. Only two options came to mind though, the words "interrogatory" and "interrogation". Being that Finn most likely had no idea what the first word meant, Rachel opted for the second choice. Interrogation then. It must be some kind of detective drama or something.

A fleeting thought tickled the back of Rachel's mind at the idea, the memory of Sam and Dave's similar "detective" business coming to light.

Ah, so that was it. Finn must have been inspired by their actions, deciding to use their antics to stimulate his creative juices. Brilliant, that was her man.

Title determined, Rachel scanned down to soak in her fiancé's words, eager to see what his first hand at fiction would be.

The first line read:

B – "Can I hug -? I like love-t-bears & not fair you hog-"

Which was…not exactly the quality of work Rachel had been hoping for. It barely made any sense, why-

She shook her head a few times, trying to clear her mind. She would just keep reading, maybe this was a style thing.

Second line:

S – "Ok B! I have quest., why u r here, & I here, so let's quest. ask."

Oh, goody. Now Finn was using chat speak. He couldn't even be bothered to properly write out the lines? How could-? She had specifically told him about the creative process, how was he supposed to write a script if it didn't make any sense?!

But something odd struck at Rachel, beneath her veil of mild exasperation. All the words were scrawled quickly, words abbreviated like Finn had been rushing to keep up with the flow of conversation which was…odd? Definitely odd, but also- No, it was still odd. If he had been writing a scene he wouldn't have to rush to get the words out, they would still be in his head, right? That was how it always worked for Rachel. Then again, she and Finn could have two completely different approaches when it came to writing, he could have just wanted to be extra sure he got it all written down before neatening it up but…

This felt so much more like the notes he took down in class (the few times he did take notes in class), words abbreviated and written with such obvious haste so he wouldn't fall behind, so he could keep the meat of the subject and not worry about the extraneous parts, the words that mattered in a script.

Perhaps it wasn't a script at all; perhaps Finn had been…spying?

That raised several conflicting emotions in her, though Rachel managed to push aside the pride in favor of focusing on why Finn had been spying. If that was in fact what he had been doing. And on who? And why? And why hadn't he told Rachel?

Maybe he hadn't wanted to worry her but…

Rachel moved on, flicking through the pages quickly to see if the pattern of rushed, abbreviated words ever changed. And sure enough a good ten, messy pages later Rachel stumbled upon what she assumed was a transcript of Finn's earlier writing, drafted in what was undeniably Blaine's neatly scripted print.

The title this time was "Brittany's Interrogation" with the helpful key of "B – Brittany, S – Sam, and DK – David Karofsky" as a tiny subtitle.

Oh, oooh, so that was what he had been up to. Finn had, or was, for some odd reason, taking notes for Sam and David's case. Though why he (and now apparently Blaine) was involved, Rachel didn't know. Perhaps he was doing a favor for Sam or something.

It didn't matter now anyway. Whether or not Rachel had been spying earlier, she was definitely willing to cast her dignity aside and browse through this "interrogation" in Finn's notebook. It was simply too titillating to pass up on. And it wasn't like it was going to be serious anyway; it was probably nothing, so Finn wouldn't mind. She would just get to be in on the game now. Maybe she could take notes for Sam and David. Much cleaner, nicer notes.

Motive validated, she moved on.

For the most part Rachel was right; a majority of the conversation between Sam and Brittany was as nonsensical as it was expected to be, leading in mindless, if entertaining, circles. Eventually it became obvious that Sam and David were searching for a missing notebook for Mike which was...mildly upsetting. Mike was arguably one of the best choreographers around, if someone had maliciously stolen his dance moves it could prove fatal to New Directions, especially if it was used against them. However, Sam and Dave were questioning Brittany of all people on the subject, which led Rachel to believe that this missing notebook was less of an urgent issue and more of an opportunity for the two football players to play at being detectives. There was nothing wrong with that, Rachel figured. Were it truly a matter of great importance Mike would have informed the rest of the glee club. This was just…boys being boys.

There were just two things that kept bugging her though.

Or, two questions really. Both asked by Brittany. Both of which were intended for David's benefit.

Normally, the oddities of Brittany were something with which Rachel didn't bother herself. They were beyond her control and attempting to find reason or purpose for them would only result in an exercise of time ill spent and a splitting headache. However, she had come to learn that when there was consistency, any sort of consistency, that meant that in Brittany's world there was a reason. It might be ridiculous, it might be irrelevant, but there was a reason.

Brittany, for motivations unknown, was attempting to help David by…getting information on Sam.

The cheerleader's questions didn't last very long because eventually Sam got her sucked into the purpose for his interrogation but still, those two questions at the very beginning, there was meaning to them.

Rachel knew that Finn had most likely ignored this, assumed like many others that Brittany was simply being Brittany - an odd, wayward duck - but Blaine on the other hand…

He kept Brittany's company more often than most, with his constant tutoring and occasional assistance with glee choreography. He should have known, if he had transcribed the scene, that something was amiss. He would have said something.

There were notes after the scene, all in Finn's handwriting, most of them scribbled out and senseless, but there were no references to Brittany's two questions. Nothing that indicated a need to look closer. Perhaps Rachel should ask if Blaine had his own notes, maybe he knew something he had forgotten to share with Finn or-

"Rachel, the point of being in a relationship is that you no longer have to slink through your boyfriend's things like a creepy stalker. You can just do that when he's here, you know Finn doesn't care."

Kurt's sudden intrusion caused Rachel to jolt, dropping the notebook she had been so intensely studying, causing her friend to let off a low series of laughs as he made his way beside her, staring down at the lined paper with a semi-interested look on his face.

"And what do we have here?" he asked, nudging the thing with his foot. "He's not trying to write another song is he?"

"No," Rachel replied, forcing herself to keep focused and not diverting her attention to the idea of potential song lyrics. "I think its notes for Sam and David's investigation. Do you know anything about it?"

She had been retrieving and delicately smoothing out the pages of the notebook as she asked her question so she didn't immediately pick up on Kurt's change in demeanor, how the smile on his face fell a little, becoming a mask for whatever thoughts he held inside.

"Nope," the other teen replied, his tone oddly light, causing Rachel to look up at him in. She tried to keep the concern off of her face, schooling her features into innocent curiosity (as it had been before) while she studied his expression.

She knew that look. She knew that look all too well. She had to, or else she wouldn't know anything that was going on!

Kurt was wearing that ever-familiar expression of hidden surprise, leading Rachel to believe he had not known about Finn's participation in…whatever Sam and David were doing, but he was also wary, not eagerly dropping down to her level to snoop right along with her (because he could claim his innocence as much as he wanted but they all knew he was just as nosy as she was). Whatever this was, this secret, he was in on at least part of it. And whatever that part was he didn't feel like including Rachel, which was fine, he was allowed his secrets, but-

"You should put that back," he chided, clucking his tongue before sending her a playful wink. "We have facials to do."

"Of course," Rachel replied, brilliant, oh-I-would-love-to smile coming to her face effortlessly. "Just give me a minute."

"Ok, but make it a quick one," Kurt called from over his shoulder, already exiting the room. "There are magazines with our names on them!"

"I wouldn't dare keep you waiting!" Rachel yelled back, grin transforming into a more heartfelt and honest expression, and she looked back down at the notebook in her hands, already sliding it back inside of Finn's backpack.

If Kurt was trying to keep her out of the loop that meant Rachel shouldn't even bother asking Blaine what was going on. And she wanted to know, even if Brittany's questions were just a random whim with no meaning, even if the main picture here was something different, Rachel knew she would not be satisfied until she at least tried to figure out the reason the cheerleader had asked them.

That left her with only one option then.

She would just have to schedule some girl time with Brittany. Get it from the horse's mouth herself.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam made sure he kept quiet about his amazing leaps (leap, singular, but whatever, it could be leaps if he wanted it to be) forward in the case. Now that he knew the notebook had been private he could focus his efforts on Puck and Kurt.

Yeah, it was just him on this one, but he did actually have a reason. It wasn't like he was trying to hog the glory all to himself.

See, Sam knew that the entire point of recruiting a partner in crime-detecting was to like, work with them, because two minds were far mightier than one, but he just…he wanted to prove himself a bit. Show that he wasn't just an airhead. It wasn't like Dave had asked him to, or that the other teen ever treated him like Sam was some kind of burden that he was just keeping an eye on, but just- Sam wanted this, okay? He wanted to show that he was equals with Dave, at least in this.

And maybe Sam just…wanted to impress the other teen just a little bit, though that was debatable because Sam could never figure out why he would want to impress Dave. He didn't need to establish any kind of dominance or prove his worth or anything, there weren't any tests Sam needed to pass.

Just, for some odd reason, Sam wanted this moment where he brought all of this uncharacteristic, well-thought out work before his fellow bro just to see his eyes light up in surprise, and then maybe a little pride, in Sam, for what he had done.

It didn't seem that odd, and the fact that Sam couldn't think of a reason for this behavior didn't bother him all that much. He wasn't a pro-reason kind of guy anyway, but there was something a little needy about these desires that didn't sit well with him. Like, at all.

Dependability, was that the right word? Yeah, that could be it. Sam didn't like this sudden dependability he had with Dave. It wasn't like he needed the other guy for everything, he had managed to get by just fine without him, but now it was…it was bothering Sam.

Because he was spending all this time with Dave right? And at first Sam didn't think anything of it because hey, they were doing pretty awesome things. They were detecting like real pros, hashing out theories and bagging evidence and keeping accurate logs and stuff. Sure it was work, but it was cool work, so Sam didn't mind it so much. And it was understandable that working on their case took up a lot of time, because it was a case, and it wasn't like Sam could abandon it or anything just because it took a little work, Mike was depending on them.

But then there were these other times. Like, all the times that Dave tutored Sam after school and all the times they spotted for each other when lifting weights or went jogging together. Nowadays Sam didn't even think whenever he wanted someone to come over to watch Avatar with him, or who he cold rope into helping him decipher Kurt's instructions whenever the other teen made him cook dinner, he just called Dave. Sam never put any thought into picking anyone else, or trying to figure out who had time or who would actually want to, because he already knew who to call.

And that was a red flag right? Because with the fast bombardment of all this crazy stuff just attacking Sam's life, with Mike's relationship problems and the Glee club and school and being homesick and still trying to do odd jobs on the side, Sam had slowly realized that the one thing that most males did in high school was a thing that had somehow slipped between the cracks him.

That was right; Sam's focus on wooing the ladies was now woefully nonexistent.

If he had spare time shouldn't he be at least trying to flirt with girls? Any girl, it didn't matter, he just- there should be something right?

But every time Sam thought about that for even just a second, with, "Why don't I try a girl this time?" his mind immediately thought that would be way to much hassle and not as relaxing and it ends with him inevitably calling up Dave.

And the thing that sort of worried Sam the most about the entire situation, when this finally dawned on him, was that he didn't actually care.

Which sounded stupid, because that meant like, he was mature right? The fact that his life had other priorities besides girls had to be a good thing but it, it just felt so weird, because Sam never pictured himself as a mature kind of guy. He had just been happily plodding along through life and then – bam – everything was different. Like, different, but still the same. He still did the same things but now he just, he thought different, which was… good?

So Sam didn't think about making out all the time anymore, he was almost certain Kurt would say that was a good thing, but Sam couldn't help but mourn the loss. He wondered if he was just too tired to even try anymore, if this personal evolution was going to permanently hinder his want to at least attempt to get some action, and Sam found that while that was kind've the case, it still didn't bother him. Or maybe it sort of did? He wasn't sure, around this point his head had really started to hurt and things were getting a little too deep for him, so Sam had backed off the personal introspection and moved on.

Of course, there was still the nagging fact that Dave always came when Sam called him, that he wasn't bothered by the massive amounts of time they spent together and…well, Sam didn't know how to feel about that either.

Yeah, he knew he covered this, that Sam was the coolest dude in on Dave's secret so of course he would hang out with Sam, but like, what if Sam's new…dependency, what if that was bad for Dave too? What if Sam was hogging all the Dave-time and Dave liked being himself around other people too much to ever turn Sam down? What was that then, like a, what was the word Kurt had used, harmful codependency? And Sam was…enabling, that was the word. Sam was an enabler, maybe, if he wasn't like, over thinking things.

He should try talking to Kurt about this, maybe help out his Dave-dependency by getting Dave some of the action Sam possibly/maybe didn't want anymore.

Would that be cool? That was an okay thing to do right? Help a bro out?

Even if it involved other bros?

Ugh, all that stuff was making Sam's head hurt, he needed to focus. Maybe the first step to ending his Dave-dependency would be to stop thinking about Dave. That could, you know, possibly help.

Sam had a case to work anyway. One with which he was making awesome progress.

His first target for interrogation was Puck. Mostly because the mohawked-teen was going to be the first suspect Sam would see after finally coming up with his set of perfectly subtle questions to ask. Since he wouldn't have any good cop (Dave) to play off of, Sam had to be especially careful when it came to making his inquiries. He didn't want to mess up and spook Puck if he was, in fact, the culprit. Sam had to play things just right if he wanted to impress his- alright, enough of that crap, focus Evans.

It had worked out pretty nicely.

About a week after his conversation with Mike (a conversation that had been kept the most secretest of secret), the dancer had invited Finn and Sam over to play some Left 4 Dead 2. Finn had eagerly agreed, toting his Xbox and blond roommate over to the other teen's house in record time, allowing them a mostly full evening of zombie slaying. It was a given that Puck would be there, even if Mike hadn't mentioned it, because nothing short of incarceration could keep Puckzilla away whenever his boyfriend and video games happened to collide.

Sam had been slightly nervous then, not because he wasn't prepared or anything, but because he still had to figure out a way to get Puck alone long enough to ask his questions. Sam didn't want Mike to know he considered the other teen's boyfriend one of the prime suspects, and he also didn't want Finn to get caught up in the crossfire if things got messy. The leader of the glee club and Puck had finally managed to regain a solid relationship again; there was no need to screw things up with just a maybe. Even if it was a strong maybe.

Not that Sam was biased or anything.

(Though to be fair, his money was still on Kurt).

Fortunately, Lady Luck decided to smile on Sam and about an hour into the death and destruction of a zombie apocalypse Mike made the discovery that they were down to their last can of Coke. It sucked because hey, what was video games without the proper fuel right? But it was also understandable, because four guys could go through a twelve pack of sodas like it was nobody's business.

Though it soon became apparent that the speed of Coke depletion was greatly enhanced if Puck just happened to go through half of the twelve pack before ever mentioning it to Mike.

So they had their usual bout of Mike exasperation and Puck indifference that led to shouting and ranting and then kissing and making up (at which point Finn and Sam had respectfully averted their eyes) and then Mike decided the just punishment of forcing Puck to make a drink run and explaining, very explicitly, that he would not be welcomed back until he replenished what he had taken.

Sam, being the bro that he was, had cheerfully volunteered to keep the other teen company, and that was how he came to have his alone time with Puck, the car ride to the grocery store perfect for asking the subtly sneaky questions he had his heart set on sneakily asking.

It couldn't have worked out better if he had planned it.

"So," Sam started brightly, drumming his fingers against the passenger side window as he watched suburban Lima pass by in a blur. "You and Mike-"

"Dude," Puck interrupted, sounding mildly annoyed. "We are not chicks and we are not having this conversation."

Sam blinked, and…well, felt pretty stupid, because he totally should have seen that coming. But he didn't panic. Nope, it didn't matter if the beginning of his super planned out interrogation had already managed to go horribly astray, he would just have to improvise. Think on his feet (though Sam could just hear the amused snickers of his peers as he thought that, but screw them, he could do this), like a real detective. He would be fine.

The blond opened his mouth to protest. "But I'm not-"

"Nope," Puck replied stubbornly, immovable on the subject. "Just because I like making out with a dude-"

"That's not what I-"

"-doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly turn into a gossip monger." Puck continued, talking right over Sam's objection. As they pulled up to a red light he leveled a quick glare at the other teen, letting Sam know his feelings on the subject were final, and the blond forced himself not to give into his automatic reaction of pouting. He couldn't help it; it was like, instinctive, but-

Focus Evans.

Outside Sam's mental tirade Puck continued, slowly pushing down on the gas as the light turned green. "I wouldn't budge when Kurt tried to grill me for info and I'm not doing it now, even if you're my bro. There are limits Sam."

"But-"

"Limits," Puck repeated with a determined nod, eyes still focused on the road.

The declaration was followed by a few seconds of frantic thinking on Sam's part, wondering just exactly what he was supposed to do now. The goal had been to figure out how Puck was feeling with his ratio of Mike-and-Puck-time to deprived-of-Mike-time to see if Puck was cool with that, but that required talking about their relationship which, unfortunately, required actual talking.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but Sam kind've had a goal here, which was probably why he had never previously bothered with the sneaky-manipulating side of glee club of which all the other members seemed so fond.

He couldn't just give up though. He had to figure out something, find a way to make Puck talk.

He pressed on.

"Look dude," Sam began, irritation edging into his tone. "I'm not asking for details here, I just want to know if you guys are like…cool, you know?"

Yeah, friendly concern, that worked. Mike was one of Sam's really close friends, close enough that the blond helped him pick up a broken heart and start dating Puck of all people, so it was totally legit for Sam to be curious.

Puck glanced at the other teen, eyes narrowing just the slightest bit before his attention was back on the road. "You mean you want to know if Mike's happy," he stated, translating Sam's comment.

The blond shook his head, sitting up straighter as his body was suddenly attacked by a wave of panicked tension. "You guys are both-"

"Relax blondee," Puck drawled, his left hand sliding off of the wheel until it rested on his thigh, his fingers drumming against the rough denim of his jeans thoughtlessly. "I'm not offended. You and Mike have always been tight."

"Yeah, we…" Sam dropped off, shoulders sagging in relief. Man, this was harder than he had thought it would be. "Just, it's good right?"

They pulled up to another red light just as Sam finished his question, though this time Puck kept his eyes ahead, something Sam realized that he should probably start doing because like, if you were going to have these kind of personal conversations with a guy it was an obvious that you had to downplay them as much as possible, minimal eye contact and all that. Sam appropriately turned his attention towards his window. Stupid, he had been slipping.

"Yeah," Puck replied after a brief pause. "We're doing good. Tina does this stupid thing where she gives us status reports, just so there's no miscommunications." The driver scoffed, rolling his head back until it thumped against his black headrest, eyes closed as though he was dealing with a great burden. "Honestly, sometimes I think she sticks around just because she's afraid we're too stupid to manage on our own."

"I don't know where she would get that idea," Sam mumbled quietly, despite his better judgment, and Puck snapped his head to the side, eyes narrowing.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," Sam quickly responded, words tumbling out of his mouth. "So you're all good? No problems with like, parents or kids at school, or…time management?"

Sam had planned out his list carefully and offered out his last option as nonchalantly as possible, like it was run-of-the-mill stuff, and beside him Puck nodded absently, accelerating the car as the light turned green.

"Nope," Puck replied, picking up Sam's cue. "Which surprised the hell out of me. Turns out his parents don't give a crap. They're all for love and support and you know, all that usual touchy feely shit."

"And at school?" Sam prompted, clearing his throat.

"We've tried to keep it on the down low," Puck said, eyes searching through traffic as he made a slow turn. "We've only got a few more months anyway, and I'll be damned if someone starts stirring up trouble just because we're doing something they don't like."

Puck finished the turn quickly, causing Sam to rock to his right as the car straightened back out.

"Nope," Puck continued, hands gripping the wheel. "That is not how Puckzilla operates."

"Good," Sam said half-mindedly, already focused on his next line. "And with the uh, time management?"

There was another pause, way longer than Sam would have wanted it to be (though to be fair he wouldn't have wanted a pause to exist at all, not at that point), and the blond fought against his urge to start fidgeting or acting like his question was out of the blue, because it wasn't damnit it was fine, but then the seconds drew out longer as Puck continued to not respond. He was just merrily driving down the road, getting closer and closer to their grocery store destination and then- there it was, a look, Puck eyeing the side of Sam's face suspiciously or thoughtfully or any of the "ully's" that Sam didn't want him thinking about, so the blond prepared himself for the worst.

It came as a kind of relief whenever Puck eventually asked, "Did Kurt put you up to this?"

Sam was proud to say that his remarkably confused reaction had been one hundred percent natural, no acting or playing dumb necessary. It was just him, pure befuddlement, and a mildly annoyed jock staring at him in an expression that was certainly not appreciative, leaving Sam too puzzled to be able to over-think the situation.

So he really didn't put much thought into his answer, he just said it, words spilling forth naturally as Sam tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

"What? No," Sam replied, shaking his head and giving Puck one of his signature looks of confusion. "Why would Kurt-?"

"I dunno," Puck grunted, fixing his eyes back on the road once he realized the legitimacy of Sam's bewilderment. "Just seems like a Kurt-like kind of question."

"What does that even mean?" Sam asked, more to himself than the other teen, but that seemed enough for Puck, who went ahead and responded to his question.

"Exactly," Puck mumbled, eyes catching sight of the grocery store off in the distance, a little further down the road. "Time management? That doesn't make any sense, even by your standards."

"Hey-" Sam rose up in his seat, objecting the other teen's statement. He was not that confusing. "It makes perfect sense."

"Oh really?" Puck goaded, eyeing the blond briefly, doubt evident in his features. "Then explain it Einstein."

"It's just-" Sam began, then snapped his mouth shut, forcing himself to put some actual thought into his response. After a few calming breaths he looked back at Puck, who was turning his truck into the parking lot. "Like, since there's three of you, do you get to spend enough time with him?"

They fell into another thoughtful silence, but at least this time Puck was considering Sam's question, taking a few minutes to sit and ponder his answer after he successfully parked his truck. His hands drummed restlessly against the steering wheel, eyes focused on some far off point in the distance way beyond the hood of the vehicle. Sam was almost afraid to break him out of his trance, so he chose not to, instead settling himself in against the side of his window, keeping his back to the door. Just, getting a little closer to his exit.

By the way Puck suddenly gripped at the wheel, knuckles clenched and rigid with all the negative emotions Sam would rather Puck never be feeling, then there was the slightest chance he would need to make a strategic exit. Just, for his safety, maybe.

"So what," Puck ground out, jaw tight when he finally darted his eyes back over to Sam, "You think I'm going to be a neglectful boyfriend? That I'd just push Mike aside like I did before? Is that it?"

"No!" Sam's exclaimed, surprised. That wasn't what he had meant at all.

Puck narrowed his eyes at him, not fully convinced. "Then what? What the hell could you possibly mean?! You think I don't treat him right? That I'm just going to ignore him and date by my own rules, my time? Are you supposed to bring on some kind of epiphany that makes me see the errors of my ways? What? Spit it out Evans!"

"That's not what I meant at all!" Sam replied frantically, not succeeding in keeping his voice calm. "I just- I wanted to make sure he was spending enough time with you-"

"Like I'm some kind of charity case?!" Puck bellowed, lurching forward into Sam's personal bubble. "That's real sweet guppy lips, but you can take your Good Samaritan crap somewhere else. Mike and I are fine, and I'm not letting you make me doubt that because that shit only leads to lectures from Tina and then lectures from Mike and sure, the 'kissing it better' part afterwards is really great, but it's a hell of a lot better to actually look like I wear the pants in our relationship just a little bit. I don't have to, but for appearances sake I can't be so goddamn insecure all the time. You hear me?" Puck asked, turning back to Sam, as over the course of his rant he had started raging at the windows, gesturing his arms towards some invisible audience.

He jabbed a finger against Sam's chest. "So what the hell-?"

"Mike's notebook got stolen!" Sam burst, unable to deal with the wrath of Puck. The other teen paused, frozen still, clearly not expecting that as a possible response, and Sam sagged back against his seat, disappointed in himself.

Great. Just great. He had blown it. A little grilling from Puck and he had collapsed like a house of cards.

Some detective he was.

"…you want to repeat that?" Puck asked after a few seconds, still posed menacingly over the console, no longer concerned with the fact there was very little space between them as he tried to figure out what was going on.

The blond sighed morosely, avoiding the other teen's eyes as he continued to berate himself. The only option he had left was to come clean.

"Mike's notebook got stolen," Sam repeated, tapping his foot nervously against the truck's aged carpet, keeping his head turned away in an effort to get some distance between them. "So I was interrogating you to see if you had a motive."

Puck stared at him; face blank as he took Sam's information in, still not moving from his hunched-over positioned, and stared up at the ceiling, apparently in deep thought. After a few seconds his eyes flicked back to Sam. "This is about that stupid detective thing isn't it?"

"It's not stupid," Sam protested instantly, bristling at the insult, and he folded his arms across his chest, not caring if it brought him that much closer to Puck. "It's legit. We even have a case-"

"Oh," Puck chortled, chin dropping to his chest, narrowly missing the top of Sam's arms as he properly expressed his opinion on the subject. "The case of the missing notebook, how ever could I doubt your investigative status? Please, please forgive me Evans I didn't mean to offend-" he dropped off his sarcastic rant suddenly, eyes lighting up as thought something dawned on him, and the mohawked-teen snapped his head up, zeroing in on Sam, expression turned thoughtful. "Wait, did Mike actually lose a notebook?"

"Yes," Sam replied, unable to hold back his bitterness at the other's mockery. "It was his choreography notebook too. We think someone stole it-"

"Wait," Puck interrupted, signing with his free hand for Sam to rewind a few seconds. "Do you mean the one I drew a dinosaur on?"

"That's the one," Sam chirped, pleased that the Puck finally accepted his credibility. "Someone took it out of his locker."

"Dude, that blows," Puck declared, eyebrows furrowing at the thought. "I spent a lot of time on that. Wait," Puck paused a moment, considering things, then tilted his head. "You think I did it?"

"We think someone in glee club did it," Sam replied, holding up his hands in an attempt to soothe the other teen. Probably would have been more effective if he wasn't like, right there. "Mike said he kept the notebook mostly to himself-"

"Why didn't Mike say anything about it?" Puck murmured, turning to gaze out the windshield, hand braced against the dash fidgeting restlessly.

"Maybe he was embarrassed," Sam offered, unsure of the idea's merit.

Originally he had assumed that Mike didn't tell Puck because the dancer wasn't entirely sure the other teen hadn't taken his notebook, but based on the jock's reaction Sam figured he shouldn't have worried. Puck obviously hadn't known about the fate of the notebook after he had drawn on it, and seemed more upset that someone had stolen something from his boyfriend than he was defensive.

"Do you think," Puck began quietly, turning his head to look back at Sam. "Do you think someone attacked him to get at me?"

Sam nodded slowly. "It came across our minds."

"Right," Puck mumbled, flopping back against his seat, finally giving Sam some breathing room. "Karofsky's working with you."

Despite his reputation for being stubbornly oblivious, Sam did not miss the look of hurt that flashed across Puck's features when he spoke, nor the guilty expression that followed. Out of anyone, Puck was aware of his effect on people, didn't doubt that he would ever be the target of someone's hate. It probably killed him though, the idea that someone would hurt Mike because of him.

Sam suddenly felt like the king of all jackasses for placing Puck as suspect number one. The guy was a rebel, but Sam should have known how much he cared too much about Mike to waste anymore time stupidly harassing him. As odd as it was to think, Puck was more mature than that.

He was definitely off the list then.

Sam hurriedly rushed to comfort his friend, trying not to make it obvious that he had seen Puck's moment of self-hate.

"But I just-" Sam burst, words coming out in an avalanche as he failed to properly arrange them. "I spoke to you first, because I saw you first, but that didn't mean- It's not like you're actually- Just, we wanted to cover all the bases right?" Sam asked, motioning to Puck to get some kind of reaction out of him, an affirmation, anything. Eventually, the other teen nodded, and he continued. "Right, so I- well, I think it's Kurt, and not like, meant to hurt Mike, he just wanted to see the dance moves so you don't need to worry about it and I'm sorry." Sam paused, taking a breath of air as he finished his ramble, flopping back against his seat.

"I'm sorry," he echoed.

Puck cleared his throat after a moment, finally flopping back against his seat with his eyes glued on the windshield in front of them, and eventually shrugged. "Dude, you don't have to apologize to me," he began, voice slowly taking on that casual, laid back edge it always had. "You're doing my boyfriend a favor right? You were just trying to do a good job."

"Exactly," Sam agreed, maybe a little too enthusiastically, and after a suspicious glance from Puck he got back with the program and turned to stare out the windshield as well, keeping his eyes focused on the half-filled parking lot.

"So," Puck said after the awkwardness began to fade. "If you need any help, or you catch the guy that did it…"

"I'll call you," Sam finished with a definite nod.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Puck copying the movement, and finally, for the first time since the car ride had started, Sam allowed himself to relax.

"You bet your ass you will," Puck murmured, dangerous edge in his voice. "No one messes with my boyfriend without fear of my wrath, you hear me?"

"Loud and clear," Sam replied, mimicking the voice of an old-timey radio announcer. The other teen rolled his eyes at the blond's antics, considering for a moment before lurching back over into Sam's space so he could properly flick the other teen on the side of the head.

"No," Puck said, attempting to chastise the snickering blond. "That's only cute to other people."

Sam smiled brightly as he unbuckled his seatbelt, reaching over and throwing open his door so they could finally start their shopping expedition. The others would get worried if they wasted too much time.

"So," Sam chirped, hopping out of the truck. "You think I'm cute then?"

With a sigh of one who was greatly put-upon, Puck slammed the driver's side door closed as he mirrored Sam's movements, getting out of the truck. "To other people."

Sam shrugged innocently. "I hear what I heard," he declared, and before he could make some smartass remark somebody else did it for him.

Someone who was, unfortunately, less interested in making witty remarks and more interested in spreading his irrationalized hate.

"And the rest of us can hear it too dumbasses, so try and keep your fairy shit to yourselves."

They both turned to look at the new voice at the same time, Puck automatically glaring and getting on the offensive while Sam blinked in surprise, taking in their verbal attacker.

Shit, it was Azimio.

Pretty much the last guy Sam wanted to see.

"What are you doing here Azimio?" Puck drawled, leaning against the side of his truck with an air of pure arrogance. "Did you mistake your rep count for your address again?"

"Screw you Puckerman," Azimo replied, eyeing the mohawked teen in pure contempt. The other jock was just across the narrow parking lot isle, facing the truck bed. "You can try to throw off your new homo-scent but you're not fooling anybody. I saw you mackin' on fish face. It was only a matter of time, wasn't it?"

"What the hell-?" Sam began, trailing off as he tried to figure out what Azimio's problem was, and Puck continued the conversation, throwing back some scathing remark as Sam reviewed the past few minutes.

"Mackin"? What did Azimio mean by "mackin'"? Was that-? Oh, that was slang for…

Wait, that dude thought he had been making out with Puck. But why?

"Dude, you are seriously retarded," Puck drawled, making his way towards the far end of his truck, closer to Azimio. "All those protein shakes must have finally gone to your head."

"Say what you want, but I saw what I saw," Azimio spat, fixing the other two teens with a look of triumph. "I always knew there was something wrong with you guys-"

"Because you've got a mental defect," Puck spat, leering at the other jock, but Azimio didn't seem to notice.

"I'm not surprised by you," Azimio continued, jerking a nod in Sam's direction. "But you Puck? Man, that homo Glee club is more poisonous than I thought."

"Shut it, Azimio!" Puck yelled, only refraining from lunging at the other teen because of Sam's hand on his arm.

"We weren't making out," Sam explained, unsure of why he was even bothering to reason with someone who had so obviously made up his mind. But he tried anyway, for Dave. "We were just-"

"Giving into your faggy desires," Azimio declared, venom, pure hatred written on his features, like he despised them for the very idea of it, that they would-

And Sam was just…overcome with an indescribable amount of fury that Dave's friend would feel like this, that he could possibly turn this hate on Dave purely on the basis for who the other teen had an uncontrollable attraction to, and that filled him with a rage he could never hope to express.

Fortunately, Puck had already decided to attempt and describe his own feelings on the subject while Sam processed this, and lunged across the concrete, grabbing onto Azimio's shirt.

"Now you listen here you stupid prick-"

"Puck," Sam managed in between grunts of exertion, trying to pull the mohawked teen off of Azimio before he could do something stupid like get sent back to Juvie. "He's not worth it."

"Yeah," Azimio sneered, smoothing down the wrinkled parts of his shirt where Puck had grabbed him. "Listen to your fuckbuddy Puckerman-"

"Go to hell, Azimio," Sam spat, literally trembling in an effort to restrain both him and his friend. "Just leave us alone."

"Whatever," Azimio said, turning to walk away from the other two. "Freaks."

"I'll show you a freak-" Puck began, making to run after the other teen, but Sam pulled him back again, turning to stare back at the truck's rear window, wondering exactly what Azimio saw.

"How-?"

"He must have been there since we parked," Puck murmured, relaxing against Sam's hold with a petulant slump.

"He was spying-?" Sam asked, looking at Puck in disbelief.

Why? Why of all the things-? Did he even know it was Puck's truck, was he following them, or had it all just been some coincidence that ended with homophobes deciding the world was what they wanted to see, and not at all what was actually there?

It probably didn't help that Azimio didn't like Sam much for taking up so much of his "best friend's" time.

Whatever.

Back in the real world Puck was still talking, frown set on his face from the remnants of his anger. "He saw me leaning over and decided we were making out," Puck groused, finally pulling his shoulder away from Sam's hand and continuing to stare at the other teen's retreating back. "Damn idiot."

Idiot was an understatement. Wouldn't making out involve moving? Or like, looking like you had made out?

Or, here's a quick idea, the actual possibility that Sam would want to get physical with Puck?

Seriously, he liked Mike and all, but Sam had better taste than that. Way better.

There was a moment of silence where Puck tried to calm down, and Sam stared down at his feet, wondering. "Do you think…?"

"Yeah," Puck answered the incomplete question with a tired sigh, rolling his head back to so he could stare up at the stars wearily. "He's probably calling his buddies right now."

"Awesome," Sam murmured, in that it wasn't awesome at all. Tomorrow would not be a fun day at school.

Just…awesome.

It probably wasn't a point in his non-dependability favor that Sam's initial response to this new development was to call Dave. The fact that he still didn't give a damn about it was probably also a bad sign, though as it turned out, Sam's fear of monopolizing Dave's free time was almost immediately put to rest the moment he dialed the other teen's number. Dave never picked up.

All Sam got was a busy signal.

Chapter Text

The average Wednesday morning was just as average and boring as was expected. Just a mob of bleary-eyed students trudging along to their first classes of the day, counting down the weeks until finals, prom, and graduation. The last of which always brought up conflicting emotions within Dave because he felt like each moment he drew closer to freedom was something to be celebrated; soon he would be out of here and he wouldn't have to abide by this stupid high school caste system and hiding in fear would be but a thing of the past. But then there was also the staggering fact that Sam was just a junior to his senior, and whenever Dave managed to escape this place he couldn't bring the blond with him, not that- he was getting ahead of himself, thinking of life beyond high school with college and then jobs and it probably wasn't healthy at all that he envisioned doing all of this with Sam but his heart was kind've a bastard and seemed happy enough to ignore all the warning signs and picture it anyway, because Dave was just a hopeless romantic like that.

God, he was pathetic. What happened to him? He used to think he was beyond this stuff, but just look at him now…

He wanted to regret it but, like many of the things he had done in the past couple of months, found that he just couldn't.

Which was why plan Stealth-Woo-Sam had to work. Dave's only options if it failed was a few years of pitiful heartbreak where he bemoaned the horrors of love in a depression that rivaled Mike's and no one should rival Mike, that had been a feat. A level of despair that people shouldn't even dream to aspire to. It was too powerful.

…Dave was getting horribly off topic. If there had been a topic.

Mornings had a way of sending his mind on aimless mental tirades. He should eat a better breakfast, maybe that would help.

Further thoughts of early meals came to an abrupt end whenever Sam (who Dave may or may not have been waiting for as he casually leaned against the wall) finally strode into view, meeting Dave's eyes with a smile and a short wave before he purposefully strode on, moving past the other teen as he continued making his way down the hall.

Not an unexpected occurrence, it was sort of their early morning tradition. Or, if he was being honest, Dave went out of his way to make it a morning tradition because otherwise he wouldn't get to see the blond for a couple of hours and going that long without even a hello from Sam seemed incredibly ridiculous when Dave knew he was capable of making time for the other teen. So he did. He would stand in this exact place like he was waiting for someone else and then Sam would walk by and wave and Dave would give a slow nod as though he were still half asleep and then Sam's smile would grow and Dave would get that stupid warm feeling he always got whenever Sam found something particularly entertaining.

Yes, he got it; he was not helping himself with the whole "pathetic" business.

As it turned out he did not give a damn. Not one em'.

And the fact that he gave no damns seemed to work wonders in his favor, because otherwise Dave wouldn't have been there that morning to see a Sam Evans, who couldn't have been in the building for more than five minutes, literally covered in slushie ice, walking at a frantic pace and plastering on a wide grin as he quickly waved to Dave, either embarrassed by his state or really hoping Dave wouldn't notice. Or both.

On second thought, it was probably both.

Dave reached out and snagged the other teen's shoulder before he could get out of reach, abandoning his pretend post by the wall and falling into step beside him easily, giving Sam a quick look over as he began to lead him to the bathroom by the auditorium. It would be safest.

"What the hell happened to you?" Dave asked, forcing himself to ignore the sudden rage that flared up as he felt the blond's shoulder quaking, the other teen's clothes soaked with artificial dye and sugar, clinging to his frame. Something Dave would have been more appreciative of if someone had not messed with his friend. No one did that. Not here. Not if they expected to get away with it.

Maybe it was the hockey guys. They always acted too big for their britches, cocky and arrogant as though their mullets gave them divine right to own the school. It couldn't have been any of the football players, they were all still reeling from the latest stunt Clark had pulled and planning an appropriate revenge, so there was no reason for them to seek out Sam. And it wasn't like Dave had blown off Azimio lately, so it couldn't be something as stupid as jealousy acting up.

As they rounded the corner Dave could see their destination in sight, like a shining beacon of hope in the distance, and the jock quickened his pace, trying to look as intimidating as possible in case any smart asses that felt like making comments.

He wished he had imaged the slight trepidation in Sam's tone whenever he replied, the blond tensing up at Dave's question, like he hadn't expected it.

"You don't know?" Sam asked, eyes widening, genuinely surprised.

Dave pulled him into the bathroom before he answered the question, doing a quick inspection of the room to make sure it was empty before turning back to Sam, confused.

"How would I know?" Dave furrowed his eyebrows in thought, wondering what he could have missed that had led to…this being expectable. It wasn't, not by a long shot, but Sam was acting as though he should know what was going on and was wet and cold and just the tiniest bit fearful and that brought out so many overprotective instincts in Dave he had to sit back and make himself focus. He wanted to make this better; he wouldn't do either one of them any favors if he ran into the hallways and started hunting down the dumbass that had the gall to slushie Sam.

He really wanted to, but he wouldn't.

At least, not yet.

Sam eyed him, looking almost…nervous, hands constantly moving as he brushed the red ice off himself, avoiding Dave's eyes in favor of staring down at the sink. "You didn't get a call…?"

"The only call I got yesterday was from Brittany," Dave replied honestly, reminiscing on his ill-spent night. "And for the life of me, I have no idea what it was about."

Actually Dave had known exactly what the cheerleader had been happily prattling on about the night before. It had been a constant stream of half thought-out ideas on what Dave should do to properly win Sam over. His favorite had been the scenario where he rode into school on a white horse, pulled Sam into the saddle behind him where the blond would be frozen still, awestruck by Dave's majestic horse-taming skills and ride off into the sunset while the glee club serenaded them and tossed handfuls of rose petals in their wake.

As grand as an idea as it had been Dave had managed to strike down the plan based on the fact that A) roses were expensive and should not be wasted on romantic mooding that said romantics involved would never see, B) no one they knew owned a horse, C) horses were also expensive, and D) riding off into the sunset would requiring being at McKinley at sunset, which was a horrible waste of an evening.

It took Brittany awhile to agree to that last one, and the fact that Dave had managed it at all left him to believe there was still hope for this world.

But, as those things were not something Sam particularly needed to be let in on, Dave elected not to share them, which still begged the question why had Sam been attacked with slushies?

Dave was pulled from his thoughts by Sam quietly mumbling, "Oh, so that's who…"

He trailed off with a start, probably not intending to say those words aloud and shook his head, sending pieces of ice flying in a watered down cascade.

"Anyway," Sam continued, clearing his throat. "I was just uh…in the wrong place at the wrong time. With Puck. And a brain-damaged audience."

Dave breezed over the answer to the mystery of who-was-trying-to-call-him-last-night (Brittany had been so adamant he couldn't find a way to cut her off and answer the call) and focused on the more pressing issue of what Sam was talking about. The taller teen moved off to the side, grabbing a handful of paper towels from the dispensers to help Sam clean up, keeping it to business as usual while the blond turned the water on and attempted to do what he could, keeping his eyes fixed on the pink-stained water trails slipping into the sink as he washed out his hair.

"So," Dave asked, keeping his voice casual as Sam accepted the towels. "What were you doing with Puck?"

And really, a sudden burst of jealousy would be completely and totally unreasonable so obviously the uneasy feeling in Dave's gut wasn't that. That would be preposterous. And if Dave was anything, it wasn't preposterous.

It wasn't like he had any claim to Sam anyway; the blond was allowed to spend his free time with other people. And it was Puck. Who was spoken for, twice, by two freakishly possessive Asians. There was nothing to worry about there, not that Sam would be doing anything worth worrying about anyway, so by that logic Dave was obviously feeling concern.

Lots and lots of concern.

It didn't help his…concern whenever Sam began to fidget at his question, squirming under his gaze like a kid that had done something they knew they shouldn't have. Dave had to keep himself from reaching out and shaking the teen just so he could get on with it.

Sam fidgeted some more, making use of his restless hands to splash some water against his face, clearing the ice away. "I might have…and this isn't entirely my fault. Well, it kind've is, but how was I supposed to know Puck would be all- like, offended and sad and stuff? I wasn't, that's how, so…" he cut off his babbling, realizing that amongst his river of words he hadn't said anything that coherently explained the situation to Dave, and sighed, looking over at the other jock. "I just…wanted to surprise you, is all. Be a badass like you."

And then he got this dejected, kicked-puppy kind of expression on his face as he sighed again, utterly morose, and cut off further explanation by shoving his head under the water. Which was as good an opportunity as any for Dave to think a moment.

First of all, yeah, he was screwed. He knew he had always been screwed but- damn Evans, why did he have to go and say stupidly heartwarming things like that? Why? And why didn't he care?

And then there was the added bonus that he thought Dave was a badass (he knew Sam appreciated the heat he took off of the glee club but he hadn't known the other teen still took it to heart-) which was a pretty high compliment in the world of Sam and Dave couldn't smile, he couldn't, he had to keep his serious game face on and keep his eyes on the prize.

What had Sam and Puck been doing that earned the blond a slushie-covered fate?

"Sam-"

"I was trying to interrogate him," Sam exclaimed, gesturing frantically with his non-paper toweled hand, mood taking an immediate one-eighty as he got defensive. "See if I could investigate some on my own and then bring it back to you but I must have hit a sore spot or something, because instead of being a helpful interogee Puck got pissed and then he got all loom-y and threatening, like he does, and way into my personal space and then the gig was up and I had to tell him, and then he was cool but still loom-y, and oh-" he looked up from his babble, wagging a finger in Dave's direction like he was pointing out something important. "He didn't do it by the way, didn't even know the notebook had gone missing."

But he knew about it, Dave thought, fighting off the frown that tugged at his lips at the comment. He would have to talk to Mike later, see what that was about.

In the meantime, Sam continued his helpful chatter. "So we were there, in his car-"

"Why were you in his car?" Dave interrupted, because sure Dave, that was the important part.

Despite the sarcasm his subconscious still found this a very pressing matter that he needed to be enlightened on now, thanks, so he supposed that attempted reality check was a moot point anyway.

"We were getting more Coke," Sam explained, in that he explained nothing, making a vague gesture as his eyes trailed off to the side, trying to figure out where he left off. "Okay, so we were in his car, in the parking lot, and he yelled and threatened and then he was cool, and we were cool, and then we got out of the car and…" he dropped off uncertainly, buying himself a few moments as he swiped at his face with the paper towels, wiping away the dampness.

But Dave had a good feeling where he was going anyway.

Because if he was feeling concerned by some looming…

Someone else, someone who didn't know the complete story would probably assume something different was transpiring, and their range of feelings probably wouldn't happen to include concern.

Dave steadfastly ignored the wave of nausea that roiled in his gut, that stubborn anxiety clenching at his heart in a sudden and unwelcomed return. It was worse this time though, because this time it was for Sam.

"Who saw you?" Dave found himself asking, keeping his face neutral of the emotional storm building in him.

The other teen had his head bowed, patting down his hair with the mostly damp towels, face obscured but voice trying for nonchalant. "It wasn't like-"

"I know," Dave interrupted, "It wasn't like that", recognizing the argument, the plea that had probably been ignored when the first few barrages of slushie went Sam's way. "But who saw you?"

Dave wasn't even sure why he was asking though; he already had a fair idea of who it was.

Someone who would call him, someone Sam was surprised hadn't called him.

Someone who Dave really didn't want it to be.

Therefore making them the most likely choice.

"Azimio," Sam admitted, almost- no, entirely apologetic, like it was his fault Dave's stupid best friend was going out of his way to hate on the blond. "We tried to tell him we were just arguing and like, why would I want to make out with Puck? Seriously, I can do better, but he wouldn't…" Sam trailed off with a half-hearted shrug, looking timidly in Dave's direction. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have tried anything on my own."

"It's not your fault," Dave responded automatically, hating that his assurance was only met with a disbelieving snort as the other teen turned away, chucking the used paper towels into the trash can. "It's not."

"Yeah dude, it kind've is," Sam replied, finally regaining some of his usual confidence as he folded his arms across his newly-stained shirt. "I was the one that set Puck off, I was the one that didn't push him away, and I'm the one…" he trailed off, but Dave knew where he had been going.

I'm the one Azimio hates.

"It's not your fault," Dave echoed, because repetition was the key to learning and Dave needed Sam to know this. "You can't control someone else's stupidity. He was just-"

"Seeing what he wanted to see," Sam finished with a quiet exhale, like he had been repeating that to himself ever since it happened. And that- damn him, damn Azimio, he couldn't just-

"So I was thinking." Sam inspected himself in the mirror, frowning as he tugged at the bottom of his soaked shirt. "We should probably…you know, not hang out for a bit."

"No way." Dave wasn't dealing with that shit. He was not. "I hang out with whoever I want to, that includes you-"

"Well that was before Azimio started spreading rumors that Puck and I are bumping uglies," Sam interrupted, determination setting in as he turned to stare the other teen down. "Who do you think did this to me in the first place?" he said, motioning to himself, and it was so much worse now that it was confirmed, Dave resolutely ignoring the urge to flinch. "I'm not making anymore problems because I made a dumb choice. Just, give it a couple weeks and people will get bored-"

"I'm not doing that," Dave growled, pissed at the state of the world. That Sam was still blaming himself for this, that Azimio was being a moron, that a stupid rumor was trying to get between him and his Sam-time.

"First of all," he continued, grabbing onto Sam's shoulders and staring him dead in the eye so he couldn't look away. "It is not your fault. None of that was foreseeable. The only dumb thing you could do is assume it is your fault because life is too unpredictable to try to apply reason to it, especially to that situation. Second of all," he said making sure that Sam was keeping up with him. He was, but the blond still looked like he wanted to object. "What you did was not dumb. You were trying to help out a friend, that is never dumb. And you didn't think too much about your positioning in a conversation that was by rights, private, so why would you think of it? Why would someone spy on you? And why would their opinions, and their actions as a result of their opinions, ever be your fault?"

He pulled back after that, taking in the (cutely) surprised look on Sam's face, taking in a slow steady breath to help regain his composure. He didn't…ranting at Sam wasn't something he really did. Or for that matter something he ever particularly wanted to do, despite some of the blond's more exasperating and hair-brained schemes. But Dave also couldn't let Sam walk around for one more second thinking any of this crap was his fault, because it clearly wasn't.

He only had the best intentions, and if Azimio hadn't been there at that exact moment, it would have been fine.

So none of it was Sam's fault.

Then again, Dave was hopelessly biased, but he was pretty sure that worked out right anyway.

"It's…not." Sam concluded, smiling brightly on the completion to Dave's speech which- he couldn't describe the amount of relief that hit him because he didn't normally have these kinds of conversations with Sam. These touchy-feely things.

Guys don't do that, Dave's mind unhelpfully suggested, but the teen brushed it off quickly with a sigh, choosing instead to focus on his more immediate concern, Sam.

"Exactly," Dave replied, turning away from that brilliant smile. Now that Sam had been absolved of his "crimes" the blond was back to his enthusiastic self, all barely-contained energy and - the best . Not a great description, but it was Sam. And Sam was best.

As the other teen got to work cleaning off the remainder of his slushie barrage Dave searched through his backpack, finally coming upon the spare shirt he had brought to school for…well, no reason at all. It wasn't like he had any reason to worry about getting slushied.

Ever.

"Here," Dave offered, thrusting the shirt in the blond's direction. Sam, who had been staring forlornly at his own ruined t-shirt, relieved him of the yellow polo with a look of delight, gingerly putting it to the side where it was safely out of staining-distance before grabbing at the bottom of his own shirt and slowly peeling it off.

Very. Very. Slowly.

Seriously, sometimes Dave thinks that fate just likes to screw with him, because watching the tan skin of Sam's defined abs being revealed ever-so gradually was probably both the best and most mentally challenging three seconds of Dave's life. On one hand, there was the obvious temptation of ogling like it was his goddamn job while the source of his ogling was blissfully unaware, on the other hand, respect and boundaries and the very pressing need to not freak out his friend by blatantly checking him out so they could keep that 'relationship' thing progressing as opposed to being abandoned in the corner when Sam remembered what a ridiculously attractive specimen he was.

Dave would like to think he was successful on the not-stare front but there must have been something in his expression anyway because Sam honest to God smirked after his little strip tease, cocking an eyebrow in Dave's direction that the other jock studiously ignored, putting on the pretense he was cleaning up any of the red droplets that had failed to make it to the sink.

"Yep," Sam murmured, sounding amazingly smug. "I'm awesome."

There was something about the honest playfulness of it all that should have shaken Dave more than it did, that Sam felt comfortable enough to deal with this side of him, and as much as Dave fought against it there was still a stupid amount of hope flaring in his chest, obsessing and over-calculating that this meant more than it did.

It didn't, they were just friends-

Or, his mind so helpfully provided, Operation Stealth-Woo was going a lot better than you think it is.

Dave just- he really hated hope. Because it was so hard to fight off.

"No one likes an ego," Dave snarked back, just as casually as he normally would have. When he looked up in the mirror he was met by a wide smile, an expression of cheer that he steadfastly kept focused on to ignore how appealing Sam looked wearing his oversized shirt, a little too wide in the shoulders and the collar hanging open, but still bearing the same countenance as if they were his own, that this was natural. That this was nice.

"Yeah well, I've been told I have a charming personality."

"Lies," Dave replied, and Sam's smile grew, like it was nothing.

Like the shirt that didn't fit him quite right and the wet hair and the stupid hope he ignited within Dave was just nothing.

And it was.

But it also, you know, wasn't.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Cornering Brittany probably should have been harder, Rachel thought, or perhaps Santana's reputation towards fierce overprotection of her girlfriend was enough of a deterrent that Brittany could happily make her way through the school on her lonesome, without fear of being cornered by those whose intentions were less-than-honorable. It was surprising though, that Rachel had actually managed to find the cheerleader without her menacing shadow trailing on her heels, doing…whatever it was Santana and Brittany did when they were together. Shoplifting maybe. Oh, or working on a new dance routine for Regionals! That would be nice.

Focus, Rachel thought, chiding herself for wasting time getting lost in useless speculation. She had a goal here and her window of opportunity probably wouldn't be that long. Eventually Brittany would be remember she had an appointment with Santana or Blaine or Mike or Quinn and get whisked away from her mindless wanderings or, more likely, one of her appointees would hunt her down and Rachel needed to fit in a thorough interro-

…a thorough chat with Brittany that would probably require a good deal of time. She needed to get started.

With a few brisk strides she fell in step beside Brittany just as the blonde passed her particular position (hideout) in the hallway. The cheerleader didn't seem to notice her at first, too busy making doodles in a notebook she held close to her chest, humming a cheerful tune with no discernable melody as she did so.

"Hey Brittany," Rachel chirped, keeping her tone friendly and chipper.

It was the same voice she had used when she had approached the blonde teen to recruit her in the fashion expenditure of yester year, which probably explained why Brittany's response was, "I can't help you with your clothes Rachel, I'm not magical enough."

She stopped dead in the hallway, forcing Rachel to jar to a halt as her target tilted her head to the side, staring off into the distance as though thoroughly lost in thought.

"I don't think anyone is," Brittany said eventually. "Not even Kurt."

"I'm not here to ask you about clothes," Rachel replied, tense, forcing herself to keep a pleasant, relaxed expression.

"Oh, so you want to borrow some of my sweet moves?" Brittany asked, continuing before Rachel had a chance to assure she did not. "Because I like you Rachel, I really do. You're loud and sometimes that scary-mean that Santana is and you give people the right people headaches, well," she paused, shrugging. "Sometimes that means you also give us headaches but you work really hard to be good at things so I think that deserves recognition right? It does. But I'm saving my moves for a special occasion, so you're just going to have to get your own."

"I don't want to talk about dance moves Brittany," Rachel said quickly, perhaps a little too tersely as her frustration finally began to ebb into her tone. She shook her head, deciding to continue before Brittany could take them down a wild path to nowhere. "I would like to ask you about Dave."

"You mean Big Bear?" Brittany asked, clapping her hands together, notebook and sparkling pen and all, with a bright smile.

Under her expectant stare Rachel simply nodded, hoping that they were actually talking about the same David and not some imaginary one that pulled capers with Lord Tubbington or something.

"Yes," Rachel said, motioning for her and Brittany to continue walking. Hopefully to somewhere private. "I wanted to talk to you about him and Sam."

When Rachel was met by another round of enthusiastic clapping she assumed her guess was correct, and the forced grin from earlier was relaxed into something more genuine. Things were going quite smoothly.

"So you want to help too?" Brittany looked pleased by the idea of recruiting another person to "help" in her endeavor. "Awesome, because Dave needs a lot of help. He won't ever use any of my brilliant ideas even though I so generously give them to him. And then, because I'm amazing and like, a super love-guru, I even listen to his complaints and think of new ideas for him, but he won't use them either."

She finished this with a sigh, tugging on the end of her pony with a pout just as Rachel began to lead them into the backstage area of the auditorium, away from prying ears.

Though she might have been a little too delayed in doing so because-

"Love guru?" Rachel echoed, face schooled to that of respectful interest were it not for the rapid blinking that gave away her attempts at processing what Brittany said. "You mean-"

"Yep." The blonde gave her a conspiratorial wink as they waltzed towards the costume closet. "I found out from Santana that Dave wants to be really good friends with Sam. Like," she leaned forward, eyes darting side to side to search for any eavesdroppers before she whispered, "Really good friends."

"Like-" Rachel began, eyes widening at what exactly Brittany was inferring.

"Yep," Brittany repeated with a definite nod. "Like, touching butts."

The fact that Rachel managed to quell the small bark of laughter that threatened to escape on that declaration was a testament to her acting prowess, but she couldn't bear that any mind because if Brittany had gotten her information from Santana, a reliable source, that further dimensioned the probability that this was simply a misunderstanding on Brittany's part.

It would also explain why Kurt didn't feel particularly keen to let Rachel in on it.

Because if Santana knew, Kurt knew, he had to know, which explained David's fixation on him last year and the sudden peace treaty instigated by Santana. It explained why Dave sought out friendship with Mike, enough to help him with his love life (so informed Rachel by her dutiful boyfriend Finn or else she wouldn't know anything-). It explained why Blaine and Kurt and Santana were all suddenly fine with him, accepted him.

And it certainly explained his near-permanent presence at Sam's side. Because he wanted to be "really good friends".

That was certainly one way of putting it.

It was…conflicting, the new swell of emotions that hit Rachel as soon as she realized Brittany's words were true. Her mind thought back to when Finn and the others had originally joined the glee club, when Quinn had Santana and Brittany follow after her, that even though it was where they wanted to be and they were outrageously popular they were still bogged down. Even them. Even being the most popular kids in school hadn't kept them from being targeted with slushies and dumpster-dives, and Dave-

Must have been terrified. Once he figured it out. Must have hated himself, and then taken that hate and used it all on Kurt, hoping it would go away.

But it didn't. It didn't and that probably scared him more.

And Rachel could see it, could see Santana or Kurt figuring it out and then Mike figuring it out and the silent support and this double life, this result of wanting to be "friends" with Sam and not-wanting to be hazed by the rest of the school-

It had to be awful.

"So," Brittany asked, bobbing up and down on her heels with a grin, bring Rachel back to the present. "Are you going to help?"

And honestly…there was only one answer Rachel could choose.

"Yes," she replied, smile matching Brittany's joy easily, earning a celebratory hoot from the other teen.

Yes, she would help Dave. That teenager she met, the one that she talked too, the one that had been watching Sam investigate a locker with a look of fondness he couldn't hide, that was someone she wanted to help.

So she would. Anyway she could.

"Good!" Brittany cheered, pumping a fist into the air. "We'll help them become best friends or my name isn't Rainbow Sparkledust!"

And with that declaration Brittany charged out of the costume closet, as though she were advancing on some invisible army, leaving Rachel staring in her wake, shaking her head at the blonde's enthusiasm.

"But it's not," she muttered.

Then again, details. It wasn't like Dave really wanted to be best friends with Sam anyway.

…at least, not just best friends.

Okay, time to strategize.

-:-:-:-:-:-

"I still say we should have waited for Brittany," Blaine muttered, smoothing down the front of his sweater in a conscious effort to play off his anxiety. "It probably wouldn't have taken that long."

"She knew the deal," Finn replied in a voice that tried to be commanding and cool and ultimately failed at either due to his own nervous twitching. "We have a tight schedule. You never know how long Sam and Dave's study sessions go. Sometimes it's hours, sometimes they give up and come here."

He gave Blaine a pointed look. "Which means we have to be done searching here and be long gone before that happens."

"Possibly happens," Blaine murmured, on principal.

That earned him a distracted nod from Finn, showing he agreed, but the other teen kept his eyes focused on the house in front of them. He inhaled slowly, taking in a deep breath before releasing it with a sudden rush of air, and then the next moment he was striding forward, gaze never wavering from the front door. Confidence, that was it, they just needed confidence-

Blaine really wished they had waited for Brittany. He knew realistically that having the blonde along for this particular mission was half as likely to ruin it as it was to see its success, but the teen couldn't deny that Brittany had this utter sincerity and charm about her that pushed away any nerves that came with trying to con your way into enemy territory. They could have let her do all the talking, only interjecting to correct her as the kind friends they were in an "Oh, don't mind her" sort of way, and they'd be in and out with no questions asked. Blaine wasn't entirely sure how Brittany managed it, but she did, and now he could only mourn her lack of presence.

By the way Finn restlessly drummed his fingers against the side of his pants Blaine could tell he did too, but the jock was far too dedicated to their mission to ever consider calling it off.

It was go time.

With more certainty than he could possibly posses Finn reached out and rang the doorbell, quick-like before he could change his mind. Blaine hovered half a step behind him, hands fidgeting with the strap of his shoulder bag as he tried to school his expression into that sense of casual charming he used to be able to pull off before he started partaking in all these secret glee spy missions. He vaguely wondered when this became normal for him and spent a moment to lament the loss of a time when all he cared about was acapella arrangements and hair gel. Those were good times. Simple times. Where had he gone wrong?

The door opened before Blaine could fall completely into despair, and he plastered a smile on his face, pulling back its intensity before it began looking manic.

A pleasant looking woman stood before them, the only indication of her age being the sprinkling of grey streaks in her chestnut, shoulder length hair. She gave off the distinct feeling of a housewife, mild-mannered with kind eyes, and it probably helped that she happened to be wearing a flowered apron over her clothes, dusted with flour and other stains one risked when attempting culinary ventures.

"Hello Mrs. Karofsky," Finn said, putting on an easy smile. "Is Dave home?"

Blaine wanted to wince at how horribly fifties it all sounded, like "I Love Lucy" and "Leave it to Beaver" had snuck into their brains and devoured their capacity for using current day lingo and replaced it with utter politeness.

Then again, there was a good chance Blaine was being overly critical because he didn't want to be here.

It was an option.

Mrs. Karofsky returned the gesture easily, previously-hidden laugh lines crinkling around her lips as they drew back in a smile. "No, uh…"

"Finn," the towering teen supplied eagerly.

"Finn," Mrs. Karofsky repeated with a delicate nod of the head. "I'm afraid Dave's tutoring someone right now."

Oh, what a horribly unforeseen coincidence.

What ever shall they do?

As though they weren't perfectly away of these circumstances Finn and Blaine put on their best disappointed faces, careful to not overdo it (Blaine had made Finn practice in the car several times before his was satisfactory), and then Finn continued, almost hesitant. "Oh, well- you see Mrs. Karofsky, I'm a friend of Sam's, you know-"

"The blond one," the Mrs. supplied, eyes focusing on a spot over Finn's shoulder as her mind wandered to fill in the blanks.

"Yeah," Finn said eagerly. "Him. Anyway, Sam lost one of his notebooks and we've been like, searching everywhere for it, and the only place we haven't checked yet was here, since he comes over so often."

Mrs. Karofsky followed along with the explanation easily, nodding in all the right places to show she understood.

"Yeah and," Finn continued, reaching up to scratch the back of his head in a show of bashfulness. "Normally we would just, ask Dave but we-" Finn motioned between himself and Blaine. "Are working on a project with Sam, and his notebook kind've has some important stuff in it, for the project-"

"And we might have waited until the last minute," Blaine added, with a hopeless boys-will-be-boys shrug, as a universal indicator that this behavior was to be expected.

"Right," Finn said, nodding. "So uh…could we…?"

"You boys could check inside Dave's room if you would like. See if you could find your friend's notebook."

"Really?!" Finn's enthusiasm was a hundred percent genuine, probably surprised that their stupid plan had worked. "Thanks Mrs. Karofsky. It'll only take like, five minutes, tops."

"It might be longer than that," the woman joked, eyes openly amused at Finn's happiness. "Take your time boys; just promise me you'll try to manage your time better in the future."

"Done," Finn chirped, going so far as to snatch up Mrs. Karofksy's flour-covered hand from her side and give it a few enthusiastic pumps. "Thanks Mrs. Karofsky, you are totally saving our grades."

"Thank you," Blaine added quietly as Dave's mother motioned them inside, still smiling at Finn's antics. "We really do appreciate it."

"No skin off my nose," she replied breezily, already heading back towards the kitchen. "It's up the stairs, second door on the right."

"Got it!" Finn called, and if the woman replied Blaine didn't hear it because he was suddenly being hauled up the staircase, Finn's iron grip dragging him along in the taller teen's wake.

Step one: lying to Dave's parental unit, complete.

Step two: Investigate for clues.

"I feel like we may be crossing a line here," Blaine muttered as he was pulled into the indicated room, Finn closing the door behind them with hurried care before prowling about the space, giving it a quick once-over to see where they should get started.

"Yeah dude, not the first time you've said that." Finn's reply was distracted, he had zeroed in on a medium-sized bookcase right by the door, hands skimming along the edges of old novels and PC game boxes as he began the task of finding any hints as to what the state of Sam and Dave's investigation was. They were supposedly attempting to try and get ahead of the detective duo so they could try to do damage control, but Blaine suspected Finn had simply gotten tired of their lack of progress and the only way to possibly rectify that situation was to do something that would probably be as productive as most of the other stuff they had tried, as in, it wouldn't, but at least they were actually doing something, and that made Finn happy.

To be honest, the only reason Blaine had tagged along was to make sure Finn didn't do anything stupid while treading in what was unquestionably delicate territory. Karofsky probably wouldn't take their snooping too kindly if he ever caught wind of it, but their excuse had been a pretty solid one (the result of many hours which they made sure Brittany didn't assist in) so if he did, he wouldn't find anything suspicious.

Besides, what other reason would Finn and Blaine have for being in his room?

Aside from pure stupidity.

Blaine sighed and wandered over towards Karofsky's desk, puttering around with the few papers scattered atop of it and giving them a cursory look to check for notes on the investigation.

Surprisingly enough, there weren't any.

What a shocker.

Blaine turned to give Finn a tired glare. "So I suppose restating any of my old arguments at this point wouldn't make you change your mind?"

He knew they had already come this far but for basic human dignity's sake; it wasn't like they couldn't just turn around right now. Leave this business behind them. At least pretend they were decent people.

"Nope." Finn shook his head, deliberately ignoring Blaine's exasperated sigh as he flipped through a spiral notebook, the word "Math" scrawled across the front in hasty chicken scratch. "Check the drawers," he added, nodding over to the desk without pulling his eyes away from Dave's math notes, visibly put-off by the fact they dared not to be what they were looking for.

"Sure," Blaine mumbled with false enthusiasm. "Because that's not a blatant violation of privacy."

"Less complaining, more searching," came the flippant reply. The math notebook was replaced with an aggravated shove before Finn continued his inspection.

"You know he could be just like us." Blaine started a half-hearted search through Dave's desk, inspecting the drawers filled with remarkably unsuspicious office supplies and knickknacks. "Keep his notes in his backpack. With him."

"Maybe," Finn replied distractedly, temporarily consumed with a rubik's cube that had fallen behind a stack of novels. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least look."

"Because you're doing such a great job of that now," Blaine muttered, taking a small hint of satisfaction as Finn gave an indignant sputter, quickly followed by the sound of his toy being tossed back onto the shelf.

"Focus Blaine," the other teen chided, crouching down to get a better look at the bookcase's bottom level. "Maybe if you put more energy into being helpful instead of a buzzkill we would be done by now."

"Sure," Blaine scoffed, pulling open another desk drawer. "Hey, when we're done finding nothing we and reevaluate just how helpful I am."

Finn must have decided that any reply he would only result in further argument so he chose not to answer, instead giving up his bookcase and turning his attention to Dave's closet, probably looking for shoe boxes or folders that were secreted away in the clothing's depths.

With a roll of his eyes Blaine went back to examining his desk drawer, this one appearing to consist of a stack of abandoned papers, either sentimental or forgotten, and he pulled away the upper portion of the stack, intending to flip through them to satisfy his partner in crime. What he got was a couple of rough drafts of papers, a few pop quizzes (Dave took French, Kurt would love that), and what looked like some extra credit assignments, none of them of obvious importance. Blaine was about to move on when he noticed that a drawing was now on top of the pile. The paper it was on was slightly crinkled and the drawing itself a bit smudged, but Blaine couldn't help but laugh at the elaborate scene that was depicted, a bunch of stick figure pirates conquering a ship of ferocious looking cheerleaders, trying to fend off their attackers with a load of pom-poms and confetti cannons.

It was, dare Blaine think it, utterly adorable, and with a laugh he eagerly moved on, pulling out the next couple of pages to see they were more of the same illustrations of a wandering imagination, some featuring the football team making their way towards victory, others featuring damsels getting rescued from fire-breathing dragons, standard knights in shining armor replaced with tough and hardened commandos using rocket launchers. It was quite a sight to behold and it wasn't long before Blaine's snickering grabbed Finn's attention, drawing the other teen over to his side so he could see what all the fuss was about.

"I had no idea Dave was an artist," Blaine managed through his laughs, holding the picture up so Finn could see it. "He should try writing comics for the Muckraker, it would be way better than some of the stuff they're printing now."

He turned back to the drawer, ignoring Finn's thoughtful silence as he flipped through some more sketches, some of them having obviously been crumpled up in a fit of anger and carefully unfolded, closer to the bottom of the stack in order to help them flatten back out, Blaine presumed.

He had almost reached the bottom of the pile when Finn cleared his throat, meeting Blaine with a confused expression when the other teen looked his way. "Dude, I think these are Sam's drawings."

"Sam?" Blaine asked, feeling his eyebrows furrow. "But why would they be here?"

"I dunno man," Finn replied, shifting a little uneasily. "But he draws like, a ton of these things but only keeps about half of em'. Says that the other ones aren't good enough to waste space on or something."

"Pretty hard critiquing for stick figures," Blaine murmured, giving the papers another look. On closer inspection, all of them seemed to be folded or crumpled, at least a little bit, which made the possibility of them being discarded all the more likely.

"Yeah well, didn't say it made sense." Finn shrugged, frown beginning to tug at his lips. "Hey uh…isn't this a little creepy?"

"Creepy?"

"Yeah like," Finn shuffled uncomfortably. "It seems a little weird for Dave to collect these and keep them all in one place, like a collection or something. I can understand having a few of them lying around, that's sort of unavoidable when you hang out with Sam and paper at the same time, but like this…" he shrugged again, handing the papers back to Blaine unhappily. "Kind've creepy."

"Well I think it's cute," Blaine replied absently, giving the pages one last look of fondness before carefully replacing them. "And a little sweet."

The moment he finished the sentence he knew he had said the wrong thing, so consumed with Dave's obvious fondness that he forgot who he was talking to. So it wasn't the least bit surprising when Finn let out a chocked sound of disagreement, instantly beginning to shake his head.

"Dude, guys don't do cute. Or sweet. Not us anyway," he continued, watching as Blaine re-hid the drawings with the schoolwork he had taken out earlier. "I mean, maybe guys like you and Kurt…and like, Mike now too I guess, would, but the rest of us try to stay away from that sentimental stuff as much as…"

Blaine turned to look at him as Finn trailed off into silence, expression on his face going from confused to thoughtful, his eyebrows furrowed as he began to stew over what he had just said. It was no matter of overreaction that Blaine felt his stomach immediately drop as he realized where Finn was going, and then Finn realized where he was going, and when the theatre-loving teen was met with an incredible look of disbelief from one Finn Hudson he discovered that his usual charming look of I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about didn't feel like existing whenever he needed it most.

Figured.

"…guys like you- oh my God!"

He barely kept his voice low enough so it wouldn't be heard downstairs, but it was a near thing, and Finn clamped a hand across his mouth, eyes wide as he realized what at least half of glee club had to know at this point.

"You," Finn hissed, pointing to Blaine frantically as though he were at fault for this sudden epiphany (and, to be fair, he was, but that didn't mean he liked it). "Did you-? Do you-? Does Kurt-?"

"Yes," Blaine replied, running a hand across his face, feeling nothing short of absolutely terrible for accidentally outing Dave. "Sweet", he had said. Couldn't just keep his opinions to himself. Had to try and defend Dave's honor.

Well look at where that got him.

"That..that…that actually makes a whole lot of sense and I can't believe I didn't see it sooner but really?! Is this actually happening and you and Dave didn't band together to try and teach me some lesson-?"

"Nope," Blaine mumbled sadly, not meeting Finn's inquisitive eyes.

This was what shame felt like. Blaine had been shamed.

"Holy crap," Finn muttered, grabbing the side of his head as though it could stabilize him through the emotional storm. "Karofsky's gay?"

"Weeell…" Blaine drew out the vowel, hoping by the end of it he would discover a few other words to follow but unfortunately he came up nothing, so all that was left was uncomfortable silence and a questioning jock that wanted answers that Blaine didn't particularly want to give him.

Kurt was going to kill him. That was just the unfortunate truth of it. Kurt was going to kill him and then Santana was going to kill him and if by some chance someone managed to bring him back to life he was going to lose his bro membership card for participating in the most absolute failure of bro-itude.

A rather disastrous turn of events, if he did say so himself.

"I can't believe it," Finn continued, disbelieve sketched into his features. "I mean it makes sense, but still, and-" his eyes widened suddenly and he looked at Blaine, another realization hitting him. "Sam."

Just one word, "Sam".

It was really all he needed to say.

"Does he know-?" Finn asked, reaching forward to grab at Blaine's shoulder, as though having some physical connection to the other teen would somehow make the answers he wanted to hear tumble forth.

"He knows," Blaine confirmed with a tired sigh.

Finn nodded, and darted his eyes over to the desk drawer. "And does he know about the…?"

"Nope," Blaine said. That was it; he was the worst gay guy ever. It was official.

He expected Finn's next words to be somewhere along the lines of "Well we must tell him!" or "We must protect him!" or "Who else knows?!" but instead of any of those options Finn's expression turned frustrated and he gave Blaine a serious look, one indicating that he would take no shit from here on out.

"Is the notebook thing legit?"

Blaine paused for a moment, blinking stupidly at the unexpected question. "…No?"

Finn's expression hardened. "Look Blaine, I mean it. Is this one of Kurt's match-making schemes or do we have an actual case here?"

"I think so," Blaine replied earnestly, because he did, but now that Finn has asked…

It was beginning to sound a lot like something Kurt would cook up.

"Okay then," Finn nodded, grip relaxing as he took up a less serious tone. "We'll just have to ask him later. And like…think about this later."

"Finn," Blaine started, grabbing the other teen's arm as he turned towards the door. "You can't tell anyone, not even Sam-"

"I know," Finn muttered, surprisingly enough. "I understand you wouldn't…you and Kurt and Santana wouldn't let anything bad happen, so I won't say anything. That doesn't mean I don't want answers though."

Yeah well, that would make two of them.

Chapter Text

Dave had taken to accompanying Sam to as many of his classes as he could manage.  True, his previous method for keeping Sam out of harm’s way had less to do with his presence and more to do with the methods of distraction he used against the football team, but most of the school’s population was still easily intimidated, so whenever Dave was near, Sam went slushie-free. 

As much as the jock hated it though, he wasn’t always on hand, and there were some class changes where they were so far apart on campus that by the time Dave could get to Sam there would have been ample opportunity for the blond to be slushied several times.  He loathed it, so much so that Dave had tried to coordinate with Santana and Zizes to take over the “Sam Shifts” he couldn’t make it to, but it only really worked when Zizes was around (as it seemed that slushieing Santana was something akin to roof-surfing on a moving vehicle, stupidly dangerous and yet still a pastime to any male worth his salt).  Eventually Sam figured out Dave’s plan and brought his complaints back to the taller jock, stating he was a big boy who could take his own punishments so “Cut it with the overprotective stuff.”

Turned out, Zizes respected a guy for accepting his blows, a “statement to his character” were her words, so Dave had to suck it up and accept the fact that he couldn’t protect his friend/detective-partner/object-of-affection as much as he wanted to.  And he really wanted to.  It was getting to the point where he was considering instigating another scandal of epic proportions just so that Puck and Sam could be off the bully radar because he was not happy.  Not with any of this.  Not with the fact that he couldn’t even bring up complaints the few times he had hung out with Azimio when he and the other football players started ragging on the blond.  Any time Dave would try to stick up for his friends the subject was immediately changed with a few joking derogatory words, like it never happened, though Dave could tell by the uncomfortable shifting of the other jocks they knew there was some residing tension between their two fearless leaders.  Leaders of the “sane” football players that remained of course, the ones that weren’t in glee club, and Dave knew just as much as he hated that qualification of sanity that something was close to breaking.  The guys knew it, Azimio knew it, and Dave knew it.

Eventually they were going to ask Dave to pick a side, and his choice was not going to please them.

He’d deserve it though, the grief he would get afterword.  He had been living on borrowed time since last year and the moment he started hanging out with Mike his fate had been sealed.  He couldn’t turn his back now and, if he had any respect left for himself, he wouldn’t. 

He wouldn’t give up Sam.

But he would give up Azimio, and that shook Dave.  Shook him to his core.

He had known Azimio for almost as long as he could remember, since elementary school, at least.  They had played Pee Wee football together, learned how to camp in Cub Scouts, spent the majority of their childhood with the other’s family, getting to know their quirks, their favorite movies, the best way to make pizza.  They discovered the wonder of girls together (Azimio did, Dave had just been frantically copying what all the other guys were doing, hoping he would eventually see whatever it was they saw) and had stepped into the foreign world of High School, together, always having the other guy’s back whenever he needed it, no questions asked.

Dave had been there for Azimio when his Grandma had died.  Azimio had been there for Dave whenever his dog had escaped from their yard and got hit by a car. 

They had fought together through everything.

And now all of it was going to be gone.  All because Dave had changed too greatly, shifted into too different a person and Azimio couldn’t stand it.  There was no more dependability.  There was no more consistency, there was only the new.  There was new-Dave and old-Azimio and they didn’t fit together like the two halves of a whole they used to be.  Maybe Azimio hated him for that.

Or maybe Dave was giving him too much credit.  Azimio never was one for contemplating his feelings.   Not a very “guy” thing to do.

Dave had hoped the…confrontation would be farther away, but he had known deep down that was unrealistic. 

He just wished it had gone down better. 

It would figure though, that Azimio would be the guy to try and slushie Sam when Dave was playing guard duty, too busy narrowing his eyes at anyone with a cup within their immediate vicinity to catch sight of Azimio until he was only a few feet from them, cup posed at Sam, and Dave didn’t even think about it.

Sam pulled back, already preparing for the shock of icy cold and Dave smoothly stepped in front of him, taking the full hit, right across the chest and shit-

Shitshitshitshitshitshit- that was cold.  He had forgotten just how- yes, that was very-

There were two other jocks waiting behind Azimio, Wayne and Stevens, clearly unsure of how to proceed as they clutched their still-full slushies.  Azimio glared at Dave, irritated that he had gotten in the way of his shot.  Not apologetic, not even the tiniest hints of remorse or even casual, half-hearted “Oops”.  Azimio knew what had happened, and he didn’t care.  Dave had brought it upon himself. 

This was a warning.  A taste of what could be. 

“Move,” Azimio ordered, making an agitated gesture for Dave to step aside.  “Get out of the way Dave, blondee here’s the target.”

“Now wait a minute-” Sam was pissed, finally breaking out of the shock that he was not, in fact, covered in color-dyed slush.  “What the hell’s-”

“I got it Sam,” Dave muttered, holding an arm up to keep the blond safely behind him but never allowing his gaze to shift from Azimio’s.  “Just slushie me,” he continued and motioned wearily to the other two jocks, as though to say “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” as nonchalantly as possible. 

Azimio bristled at the statement, fury written on his features at the confirmation, it was official, but it was by no means over.

Nope, now it was time to fight.

Dave just hoped he wouldn’t have to punch him.

“You’re picking them, over us?” Azimio ground out, disbelieving and ashamed, disappointed at Dave’s choice and there- yes, some sorrow.  He knew what Dave was giving up.

So it would be worse then.

There was tension in the hallway, everyone frozen to watch the commotion, apprehensive as to how Dave would answer, how they should respond.  Who was in the right here?  Dave, or Azimio?

Behind him, Dave could sense Sam tense up, waiting just as anxiously as the rest of their audience.  And Dave, he would hate it; he would, if he didn’t so obviously deserve it.

“Clearly,” Dave replied, voicing a level of calmness that was purely show, his insides wound too tight and crippled, scared and wanting nothing more than to hide.

“Are you crazy?!” Azimio snarled back and Dave, for the life of him, couldn’t keep from rolling his eyes.

I’m crazy?  You’re the one throwing slushies at people because they do something you don’t like.  That action, that there, that is the act of a crazy person.”

“Don’t act so high and mighty,” Azimio spat.  “You used to do it too.”

‘Used to’ being the key words here,” Dave replied, and there was some movement off to the side.  There, Mike and Puck were making their way up the hallway, moving to stand behind Dave. 

Moral support, he could use it.

“So that’s it then?” Azimio asked.  “We’re not good enough for you?  You’re so above the order, the system that you’re gonna spend all your free time as a faghag-”

“Do what you have to man,” Dave interrupted; sure he wouldn’t be able to last through anymore derogatory remarks.  “You wanna follow a system then by all means, who am I to take that comfort from you?  But don’t you think for one second that it is not insane.  That if you stopped to think about it the utter madness of it all would escape you.”  His hands tugged at the bottom of his shirt nervously, and he glanced down to grimace at the purple dye sinking into his shirt, the cold and the wet clinging to his frame so it wouldn’t settle properly.  “Don’t think this,” he said, motioning to the slushie remnants.  “Is not what crazy people do, because it is.  It’s petty, it’s stupid, and-” He stared Azimio, making sure the other teen knew he understood the weight of his own words.  “It is the act of a child.

A very sore spot for Azimio.  Dave had hoped it would bring him around to see the light.

Instead Azimio lunged for him, grabbing at the collar of his shirt, clearly deliberating between punching Dave or strangling him, and Dave ignored the feeling of disappointment that welled inside him.

This had always been the other option; he had just hoped Azimio was better than it.

He wasn’t.  He wasn’t what Dave wanted and Dave…

He wasn’t what Azimio wanted at all.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

As crazy as Coach Sylvester was she had the best goddamn timing in the world, Azimio never laid a hit on Dave before she was breaking them up, pulling the two boys apart and marching them down to Principle Figgins’ office like it was her God-sworn duty.  Puck and Mike had swiftly moved in after that and spirited Sam away, probably to the safety of the choir room, and Dave could see on closer inspection that Puck had already gotten slushied at least once that day.  Twice if they had used the same flavor, judging by the volume.  Sam was safe, and Wayne and Stevens had vacated the premises as soon as Coach Sylvester hit the scene, knowing the rules.  They had to survive to see another day, no point in staying behind to get picked up by the crazy coach. 

That left Azimio and Dave alone in an empty office while Principal Figgins coordinated with Coach Sylvester and the school secretary to decide what to do.  The two students were supposed to be filling out incident reports, but since both of them were fully aware that student incident reports weren’t used for a goddamn thing, they didn’t put much effort into them.  What was the point?

Still, Dave found it easier to pretend he was dutifully scribbling away on his piece of paper than it was to meet the accusatory gaze of his old friend, paper in front of him remaining completely neglected as he chose to best utilize his time by attempting to bore into the side of Dave’s head using only the fierceness of his stare.  To this point he was unsuccessful, but it was not for lack of trying.

Dave wasn’t ashamed to admit his relief when Azimio’s frustrations could not longer remain silent; slamming his pencil down beside him on the couch he was sitting on.

“How could you take his side?!” Azimio snarled.  Now that they were out of the hallway Dave could see the betrayal and disappointment written on his face, like he couldn’t believe what had just happened, even when he had seen all the signs.  He thought they were better than that.

Well, Dave had thought so too.

Dave’s anger was fading, not completely dissipated but weak enough so that he could conquer it with logic, shove it away into some empty corner of his mind while he tried to think of a way to save this, maybe.  Use his words in a more proactive method.  Like he used to.  You know, to try and have an actual conversation with his friend.  Those used to happen. There was no reason they couldn’t happen again.

Just, one last time.

Dave carefully rested the pencil and half-finished report in his lap with a sigh, trying to show he was just as…wounded, he guessed, just as tired as Azimio was.

“He’s not a bad kid A.  Sure, he’s a little dumb, but he’s actually a good guy.”

Luckily by this point Azimio wasn’t expecting Dave to immediately leap back on the ‘let’s-hate-glee-club’ train, so the anger that remained was only Azimio’s usual distaste for Sam, rather than the stinging remains of betrayal.  “A guy that likes to sing and prance around on stage,” Azimio huffed, folding his arms.  “That is not a normal guy.”

Dave shrugged. “Singing and dancing aren’t a crime.”

Disgust, true and blatant on his face, and Azimio’s eyes widened, disbelieving.  “Do you even listen to yourself?  What happened to you?”

“What happened to me?” Dave snapped, unable to…deal with how purely indignant Azimio was being, like he was the injured party.  “You’re the one who’s persecuting people because they participate in a certain extracurricular activity, one that’s field of professionals can potentially make millions and happen to be the most famous people in the whole country, an I’m the one with the problem?!  You’re asking what happened to me, but what happened to you?  When did you become this narrow-minded dickwad?”

Dave forced himself back into a slouch, relaxing out of the threatening lurch he had gotten into when delivering his rant.  Yes, the conversation devolving into anger had probably been unavoidable; Dave just wished he had a better handle on his emotions because he had never wanted to be the one to cause it.  Then again, it wasn’t like enlightening Azimio on the errors of his ways had really been an attainable goal, but Dave had thought…

Well, maybe in the beginning he would have had a shot.

But he never had.  Azimio was stubborn as hell.

They fell into a tense silence and in his peripherals Dave could see the frenzied movements of Coach Sylvester through the windows, mouth moving in one of her classic rants of pure lunacy while Principal Figgins looked on with a bored expression, eyes glazed over as he waited for her to be finished.

Dave was considering attempting to read the coach’s lips when Azimio spoke up again.

“So that’s it now,” he said, sounding bitter.  “You’re one of them?”

One of them.

One of the glee losers, one of the freaks?

You’re going to choose them, the outcasts, over me?

Dave scrunched his eyes closed against the onslaught of unspoken words, exasperated and falling into frustration at Azimio’s stubbornness.

One last plea, just one last try and then he would be done.  And then Dave would give up.  For all the history they had, it was worth one last-ditch effort.  

“They’re not bad people A,” Dave began, using the familiar nickname as a kind of grounding point.  “They’re not the ones that throw people into dumpsters or slam kids into lockers, they’re not the ones lashing out so that others won’t try to take them down they-“ He swallowed, then made a conscious effort to gather himself.  Azimio was not the person he needed to admit his sins to. “They just do what makes them happy.  It doesn’t hurt anyone.  Why is that a problem?”

When he looked at Azimio he was surprised to find agreement in the other jock’s face.  No refusal, like Dave had valid points, but he was still frustrated, like there was a point Dave was missing.

“You know why it’s a problem.”

Dave shook his head, fighting off a tinge of sorrow.  “I actually don’t.”

Azimio sighed, looking up to the ceiling as though he were asking for strength, something so familiar with the gesture it actually hurt Dave inside.  It was the expression Azimio got whenever he had to educate Dave on something he was painfully unaware of, a wise older brother sort of thing, begrudgingly granting knowledge upon the uninformed because he was feeling generous.  

“Sure,” Azimio said when his gaze turned back to Dave.  “First it’s singing and then it’s those stupid neck handkerchief and doily’s and-”

“Are you suggesting,” Dave murmured, voice cracking at the outright stupidity of his former friend. “That not harassing the glee club will lead to…what, a rampancy of homosexuality?”

Not the right words, too high dollar, not casual enough to be the ones he should have used, but they were the only ones Dave could come up with.  It was hitting close to home, touching at this modicum of resentment Dave had always tried his damndest to pretend didn’t exist but in this moment couldn’t be more painfully exposed.  This was the fault line.  This was what broke them into two different people.

“It’s not about the dancing,” Azimio was saying.  “It’s about the idea that they can be different, that they could encourage others to be different.”

Dave frowned. “And different in this case just means ‘gay’, doesn’t it?”

Because other differences were nothing to worry about.  They didn’t threaten one’s masculinity, they didn’t make people uneasy, they were accepted.

Sexual preference was the only ‘difference’ where this was not the case.

For the first time in probably days Azimio smiled, relief in his eyes. “Now you’re getting it,” he said, slouching back against his couch cheerfully, glad that their little alteration had come to an end.

Dave almost felt sorry for his ignorance but found that, despite the length of their friendship, he could not.

So, that was it then.

Dave dropped his gaze to the floor, rubbing at his head wearily as he let out a defeated sigh.  “No,” he said, very quietly.  “I really, really don’t.”

When he looked up the smile was wiped clean off of Azimio’s face, though the jock may play dumb sometimes he was faster at connecting the dots than others would give him credit for. 

“You don’t want to pick their side Dave,” he warned, looking almost grave as he said it.  “It’s not worth it.”

He wasn’t sure why Azimio bothered, except that maybe their friendship was something he wanted to save too, gracing him with a determination to at least try.  It made Dave wish that the other teen didn’t care so much.  He wished it meant less. 

It would make this easier.

Dave held the other jock’s gaze, staring him down in all seriousness. “I think I can make my own call on this one Azimio, but thanks for the advice.”

He didn’t expect anything else to be said after that, he said his piece, Azimio said his, and there was nothing more to it than to finish off their high school careers pretending they didn’t know each other. 

So he was somewhat surprised when Azimio cleared his throat after a resigned moment of silence, stating quietly, “I won’t be able to help you.”

His expression was just as serious as Dave’s had been, there were no alternatives, no negotiating, simply facts.  He wouldn’t help Dave.

Despite himself, Dave found it comforting that his (old) friend was kind enough to be straight forward about that.

“I know,” Dave answered, nodding slightly. “I won’t ask you to.”

After that there was nothing more to say. 

The deal was done.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

As expected no punishments were doled out as a result of the slushie incident.  Dave and Azimio had both pleaded it was an accident and Azimio’s grappling the result of a small altercation they couldn’t even remember anymore, boys being boys with short tempers and lots of testosterone, they knew the drill.  Dave would have bothered with the truth but he wanted a clean ending to this, like they could separate amicably. Azimio, if he agreed with this, never said so.  But he did give Dave a slow nod of approval, maybe thanks, so Dave considered the message received. 

Dave wasn’t sure how much of the story Coach Sylvester believed, but seeing as the injured party here just happened to be a kid she particularly despised, she didn’t put up a fight.  It was nice.  Partially worrisome; but nice.  

Dave opted to skip the rest of eighth period, seeing as it was mostly over anyway, in favor of cleaning himself up some.  Today he was supposed to head over to Azimio’s after school but those plans were pretty much shot now.  He would check in on Sam instead, catch him after glee rehearsal or something, so that gave the jock plenty of time to change into his backup shirt and salvage what he could of his stained one.  He needed to wash it as soon as he got home, but he would have to wait for his mom to be busy cooking dinner before he could make a move for the laundry room.  It was the only way he could avoid questions. 

He supposed now that he had publicly stood up for Sam and abandoned the jocks he was officially an outcast, or something in between.  Whatever his label, Dave figured it would be enough so he could sneak into the auditorium and use the sink in the male dressing room to clean up.  Seeing as the only kids that used it were in glee club, there would be no objections.  Or even anyone there to stop him.  It was a safe enough place to hide.

He should probably start getting used to that now, hiding. 

So he was moderately surprised when the door opened while he was staring at the sordid state of his shirt, eyebrows furrowed as he considered the best plan of attack.  Dave chose the words “moderately surprised” because he couldn’t honestly be shocked when a glee kid popped in whenever you least expected them to.  It was sort of their thing.  They latched onto gossip that pertained to their members with a fervent kind of enthusiasm that was beyond most people, so as Dave was an…open support, he guessed, it wasn’t all that shocking that his usual force field of don’t screw with me suddenly no longer applied. 

Then again, it was Rachel, so it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. 

“Are you going to say that was a brave thing I did?” he asked, genuinely curious as he reached forward and turned the cold water on.  “Because that sounds like a thing you’d say.”

“No,” Rachel replied with a shrug, quietly strolling to his side and offering up a roll of paper towels, staring at his reflection in the mirror. “It’s a little too overused, though I feel the sentiment is appropriate.”

“Of course.” Dave nodded, accepting the towels.  “And…thanks?”

For the sentiment?

“You’re welcome,” she replied with a smile.  Dave let out a relieved breath he hadn’t known he was holding and fixed his eyes on the towel roll, hoping to hide any bashfulness he was feeling.

It shouldn’t feel like such high praise, but it somehow did, coming from Rachel.  He wasn’t sure why.

“Are you here to recruit me?” he asked, pulling off a couple of towels and patting them against his shirt carefully, absorbing what stray slush he could.

“Don’t think I need to,” Rachel replied, eyes honest.  “Though whether you are being specific to the actual glee club, as opposed to a mere supporter would differentiate some things.”

“Such as…?” Dave prompted, chucking the used paper towels into the waste bin before grabbing the bottom of his shirt, preparing to yank it off.

“You’re always welcome in the choir room David,” Rachel didn’t-quite-answer.  “Should you need it.  And if you’d like to join us for Nationals well…” she trailed off.  When Dave had his removed and dumped into the sink he met a mischievous gaze in the mirror, knowing and twinkling with a kinship he didn’t know they had.

“Well,” she continued.  “I think Sam would be thrilled.”

She finished this with a wink, playful but also knowing, also…

He grabbed the edge of the sink carefully, making a casual attempt to steady himself while he tried to figure out whether this was an optimistic sales pitch or a hint she was in on his secret, his plan, but who would-?

“I asked Brittany,” she offered, reading the confusion on his face.  Dave cursed, low and quiet and blatantly ignoring his mother’s voice in the back of his head chastising him for using such foul language in front of a lady.  Not that Rachel seemed to mind. 

If anything, it was what she had been expected, and she nodded in sympathy, reaching out to place a comforting hand on his bare arm. 

“Wait,” Dave said, rubbing a tired hand against his head.  “You asked?  Why did you-?”

“It’s a long story,” Rachel explained.  “But I was beginning to have my suspicions-” he let out a few more choice expletives and the grip on his arm intensified.  “-after a series of events that are very particular to my person, don’t worry about it, so I asked and Brittany told me.”

Dave shook his head; if that was all that was necessary how in the hell was this still a secret anyway?  How?

“I think it was because I’m in glee club,” Rachel continued, because her feminine powers gave her the ability to read his mind.  “It’s not like she’ll just tell anyone.”

“Just anyone in glee,” he finished, defeated anew.

“Well we are your people now,” Rachel said cheerfully, going so far as to give a thumbs up at his worried stare.  “And besides, I won’t tell anyone anyway.  You’re secret’s safe.”

“And that’s just what I don’t get about you guys,” Dave grumbled, poking at the blue-purple mess of his sodden shirt resting in the sink.  “I was a dick.  If someone was a dick to me and I found out their deepest, darkest secret I would be using it against them happily.  But not you guys.”  He gestured his hand out hopelessly, stress of the day finally bearing down on him.  “You guys are just-”

“That was old-Dave,” Rachel interrupted, looking remarkable unapologetic for jarring Dave out of his pity-rant.  “We are like new-Dave.  And I don’t think new-Dave would do any of those things now, would he?”

“Should I answer in third person?” Dave asked, avoiding the question.  But then Rachel put her hands on her hips, indicating that business was now being meant, and Dave sighed.  “Yeah, you’re right.”

“As I usually am.”

The reply was genuine, but there was a bit of snark to it, a playful edge, and Dave found himself smiling back at this crazy short person, who was loud and blunt and for some odd reason kind to wayward teenagers.  Kind when they had been cruel.

He gave a slow nod in return, choosing to indicate his thanks in silence.  Any words he chose right now would be too many and too unorganized and way to open and bare to someone he was just barely more than acquaintances with.  Dave was actually surprised he was holding himself this well together, all things considered.  Though he supposed if there was an actual budding relationship going on here, he should ask her about that ‘series of particular incidents’ at some point.

But that was for later. 

“So what’s the plan then?” he asked, moving the conversation forward, turning his eyes away from the beaming female to the soaked pile of fabric in the sink.  It wasn’t a significant loss, Dave had stopped wearing the shirts he really liked the moment Sam got slushied.  A preventative control to save his wardrobe.  Not usually something he’d care about, shirts were shirts, but his mind had a nasty habit of insisting Sam liked some of them more than others. 

“Well,” Rachel began, pleased expression plastered on her face as she began to bestowing wisdom. “Now I get to teach you the tricks I learned from being in glee club.  What the least-traveled hallways are, all the designated ‘neutral’ zones, and of course-” She reached a dainty hand down and tugged at his shirt, inspecting the purple blotches littered on it.  “How to get slushie stains out of your clothes.”

“All useful things,” Dave said nonchalantly, taking a moment to feel horrible about these survival tips the glee kids had come well accustomed to.  It wasn’t an act, Rachel was a practiced hand at this, knew from personal experience.

“Indeed,” Rachel said.  “You should be grateful.  In fact-” The mischievous eyes were back, peaking up at Dave through curled lashes while Rachel kept her head tilted towards the sink.  “I think my generosity deserves a reward.”

“Knew it,” Dave replied stoically, playing along with her goad under the assumption she would ask him to be in glee club, and surprised an impish smirk began playing on her lips. 

“It’s just that, why should I stop on one subject when I could help you with other things?”

And by other things she had to mean-

“No,” Dave responded immediately, dropping the act with a firm headshake, and Rachel’s smirk fell into a pout.

Dave.”

“No,” the jock repeated, thankful for her efforts, but firm.  Immovable.

Hopefully, immovable.

Though his resolve was firmly tested whenever she decided to whip out the puppy eyes.  “But I could help you Dave.  I’m not going to make you serenade him or anything-” Good, because Dave would most certainly never do that. “-but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of?  You know, for the romantic stuff?”

“I think I would have a better idea of what he wants than you would.” Because he was a guy and Sam was a guy, a regular guy.  Not a Kurt-guy, just a regular Joe Schmo who didn’t require grand gestures or over-the-top theatrics or horses riding off into the sunset.

“It’s not about that,” Rachel maintained, eyes wide and earnest.  “Maybe I didn’t phrase this correctly.  It’s not about what you do; it’s about how you do it.  You know what I mean?  To get him to stop seeing you as his friend and to start-”

“I know where it ends,” Dave interrupted, cutting her off before she could vocalize his pathetic pipe dream.  She supported him, that was more than he could have wanted, but he wasn’t sure…

“Look,” he said, fixing his gaze to hers in a blunt stare-down, nothing but honesty from here on out.  “While I would appreciate having someone to be able to…discuss strategy with, as you will, if this happens, and that is a big if, your participation…”

“Will be strictly limited to a supportive confidant,” Rachel finished with a smile.  “And I solemnly swear to let you carry on however you see fit.”

“And no bothering Sam,” he warned, shaking a finger at her.  “Even when I’m not around, got it?  No words will be spoken to him that aren’t about like, songs and stuff.  Deal?”

“Deal,” Rachel said, going so far as to offer out her hand so they could shake on it.

Dave studied it for a second, contemplating if he was in the right mental state to make this decision, and decided to hell with it.  Why not? 

Her grip was stronger than it looked, but it wasn’t that surprising.  She was Rachel Berry, and while she may be small, she was certainly mighty.

“Excellent!” Rachel cheered, clapping her hands together.  “You won’t regret this David.”

“Yeah,” Dave agreed quietly, unsure of what else there was to say.  That seemed to be enough though, as Rachel went back to poking at his shirt, rubbing carefully at the spots that seemed to have higher concentrations of dye absorbed.    

It was only a few minutes later when the bell rang, signaling the end of a school day and the release of the hordes, masses of students tumbling into the hallways and scrambling towards freedom and after school activities. 

Dave frowned, studying his watch to confirm this, then looked back at Rachel, still poking dutifully away at his shirt.

“Did you cut class for this?” he asked.

“Nope,” Rachel replied, not the least bit surprised by his question.  “I have eighth period off.  I usually practice in the auditorium, on the days that we have glee club.”

Dave tilted his head, studying her.  “So you didn’t see the…”

“Nope,” Rachel answered, understanding where he was going.  “But Tina’s been pretty much texting it to everyone non-stop, keeping us updated.”  She paused, frowning down at her hands as though considering, then looked back up at Dave through the mirror.  “Sam seems pretty upset though.”

“Well then,” Dave began, heart beating just a tiny bit faster at the idea of causing any kind of distress for his friend.  “We should probably check on him, shouldn’t we?”

“That sounds like a solid plan,” Rachel agreed, and then the next second the paper towels were tossed back into Dave’s face, the culprit responsible back to innocently wringing out his shirt the moment he got his vision cleared of wayward projectiles.  “But first,” Rachel continued, voice innocent as though nothing had happened.  “You should probably finish drying off.”

Dave looked down at his chest, confirming that the cold of the slushie must have numbed his ability to feel it because there was still a sizeable amount that had soaked through his shirt, slicking up his torso.

“Perve,” he grumbled quietly, realizing what it must have looked like, and the only response was a quiet bark of laughter and another beaming smile, hands focused on the task of drying out his shirt.

He groused some more for show, dabbing wads of crumbled towel against his chest while Rachel hummed a quiet tune beside him.  He frowned, considering the now-wet mass in his hands, about to chuck it into the waste bin with its predecessors when Rachel broke the silence.

“Hey Dave?” Rachel said, now focused on folding his damp shirt in a few layers of paper towels, for storage purposes, most likely. 

“Yeah Rachel?”

He relieved himself of his soggy burden with a quick throw, then turned towards his backpack and began rooting through it, not stopping until his hand felt the soft material of his backup shirt.  He moved to put it on but stopped, feeling Rachel’s gaze on him, and turned to give her his full attention.

She was held still, like she had been back when she had spied on the beginning of his and Sam’s “investigation”, like she was considering him. 

Eventually, she nodded, eyes fixed to his as a small smile tugged at her lips.

“I’m glad we got to be friends,” she admitted. 

She held his gaze for about a second more before turning her attention back to her work, not expecting a response.

Which was just tough shit, because she was going to get one.

Dave, happy to surprise her, pulled his new shirt on quickly before he crouched down at her side, reaching out a hand for the neatly-wrapped package of paper towels.

“I’m glad too,” he said, quietly. 

Not because he wasn’t proud of it, but because it didn’t need the volume.  It was a quiet moment, so he adapted himself appropriately.  Something he thought Rachel would appreciate.

“Well then,” he said, offering out his arm after he slinging his backpack over one shoulder, aiming towards the door.  “Shall we?”

She studied him for a moment, surprise and delight clear as the morning sun on her face until she schooled it off, composing herself.

Rachel nodded with an air of regality, accepting the proffered arm with dignity and grace, her nose pointed into the air. 

“We shall,” she agreed, as comfortable as though they had done it a million times.

Odd.  Odd, odd, odd- yet still, great.

Dave wouldn’t trade it, not for anything.

They left the room walking side-by-side, content, and Dave reflected on the large number of friends he had managed to lose that day.

And the small army of crazy people he had gotten in exchange.

Probably not one of his better decisions but then…Well, you only live once.

Chapter Text

“So there isn’t even a notebook at all,” Finn said, repeating Kurt’s story in a sorry attempt to better understand it. “You just made it up so Dave could spend time with Sam.” 

It made his brain hurt, it really did, Kurt and Mike’s little…whatever this was, but Finn liked to think that at the end of it he had at least a basic understanding of what was going on. 

Even if he actually like, didn’t.

“Correct.”  Kurt nodded, looking vaguely bored by this.

Oh, so Finn had gotten it right then.  Awesome.

“And you didn’t think to mention any of this when the interrogations started?”

Because that seemed like a thing that would be important to do.  Kurt should know how out-of-hand these things could get without someone keeping an eye on them, and it sure as hell didn’t look like Kurt was doing anything to keep the shenanigans from starting.

A part of Finn was sulking that the out-of-hand instances in this particular case were solely based on his little subset of detectives that had attempted to do their own investigating, and that maybe the irritation he was feeling had something to do with that, but he tried to ignore that part. 

Because in his defense, Kurt should have known better.

“I honestly didn’t think it would get that far Finn,” Kurt replied with a nonchalant shrug, eyes still half-lidded in a perfect expression of disinterest as he watched his step brother pace the length of the choir room, appearing perfectly content to study the other teen from his chair on the risers.  “It was intended as an activity they could do together.  Allow them to improve their bond.  I expected Dave to keep a handle on things.”

“I don’t know why though,” Blaine muttered from the seat beside his boyfriend, eyes fixed to the fissured ceiling tiles above, as though they would grant him some form of patience he couldn’t quite find on ground level.  “Being that Dave pretty much follows along with whatever particular whim hits Sam.”

“With care though,” Kurt argued, keeping his tone even.  “You have to admit David’s good at reeling in Sam’s excess…”

“Enthusiasm,” Blaine finished with a thoughtful nod, shaken out of enough of his annoyance of being left out to see Kurt’s side of things.

Psh, Finn had totally called that.  It had only been a matter of time before Blaine was overcome by Kurt’s boyfriend-enchantments.  Any second now their eyes were going to get all glazed over and lovey-dovey, tunnel visioning so that they were the only two people in the universe and Finn would not stand for it, he couldn’t, they had stuff to talk about.  Stuff like how Karofsky was putting the moves on Sam and no one was trying to stop it.  Worse, they were trying to make it happen.  The last thing Finn wanted to be was a cockblocker, it was totally against the Bro Code and he was a firm believe in the “Do unto others” moto but there needed to be someone in on this secret that felt like pointing out the rather large flaws in Kurt’s plan.

The main one being that Sam was not gay.

Finn had already had his share of attempted-homosexual flirtations, and while he and Kurt had a good relationship now, as brothers, there was still that lengthy uncomfortable period where Finn had been afraid to go home for fear of Kurt’s looks of perpetual longing.  

It hadn’t been a fun situation to be in.  It was kind of flattering at first, but the fact that Kurt hadn’t given up even after Finn had made it clear he was remarkably straight left the jock in this state of awkward limbo, trying to fend off Kurt’s advances without being a dick about it, because they were friends, kind’ve-sort’ve.  But it turned out his intentions didn’t matter anyway because it still ended with him saying things he still regretted saying to this day and getting thrown out of his  own home, and check it, still not gay.

He could understand if Kurt had been trying to lure him out the closet, like, if that had been the case, but it hadn’t.  His persistence had only made Finn uneasy, like if Kurt tried hard enough he could convince Finn to change his sexual preference, but that wasn’t how it worked.

All of that was water under the bridge, they were good now, but it had taken time.  Time and patience, personal growth and understanding, but Finn would have preferred it if it had just started that way. 

Sam wasn’t Finn, if Dave was hitting on him now he was still completely oblivious, and Dave sure as hell wasn’t Kurt, so it wasn’t like Sam would have to worry about public serenades or room redecorations or anything.  They were more similar, that was why they were such good friends. 

Finn’s only intention was to keep that going and if it required him being the voice of reason then he would do it, regardless of how hysterical Kurt and the others might find it.  Someone needed to think about Sam.

So Blaine and Kurt’s prolonged-loving-eye-stare time needed to be put to a stop now, because if Finn was going to miss eighth period he was going to use his time wisely damnit.

“Okay, so you guys think they’re perfect for each other,” Finn began, marching until he was behind Blaine’s chair and casually pushing it into the center of the room, successfully breaking the other teen’s eye contact as Blaine turned to stare at him quizzically.  Finn ignored him; just to see how he would like it.  “But have you thought-?”

“And now comes the portion of the afternoon where you object to this fine matchmaking,” Kurt deadpanned, like he had been expecting this (and he probably had, Kurt was kind’ve smart that way).  The taller teen frowned, ignoring his initial instinct to protest, and settled for swiveling Blaine’s chair around so that he was facing Kurt again.  Risky, but with the added distance and the threat of impeding argument, Kurt could manage to keep with the program.

“Someone should,” Finn replied.  “Look, I’m glad there’s an actual reason for Karofksy’s past dick-like behavior and the fact that he’s turned over a new leaf and all, but eventually this whole thing’s going to turn messy.  Shouldn’t we think about that?”

Kurt arched an eyebrow at him, combating Finn’s argument with a look of calmness.  “And exactly how is this going to turn ‘messy’, as you say?”

“They’re good friends Kurt,” Finn replied, trying to show that he understood, he got this, but Kurt needed to level with him here.  “But Sam doesn’t swing that way.”

“And you’re positive about this?” Kurt responded casually, the only indication he was putting forth more than minimum exertion for this conversation being how his arms folded across his chest, like he was taking a battle stance, but remained sitting.  “You know for sure?”

“He’s my roommate Kurt; if he were into dudes wouldn’t he have checked me out at least like, once?”

Someone sounds full of himself,” Blaine-the-traitor muttered. 

Finn responded with a flick to his ear, ignoring the pained objection below and narrowed-eyed glare from across the room when he did so.

“Not full of myself,” Finn continued, disregarding both responses.  “Just, logical right?  I’m not a bad looking guy; I think I’d warrant at least one look over.  And so far, I’ve got nothing.”

“Have you been watching for it though?” Kurt countered, looking more intimidating and collected than he should sitting in a red plastic chair.  “If you warrant only one-

“Seriously Kurt?” Finn gave him an incredulous look, willing the other teen to level with him.  “Are you that desperate for you to be right?  You know-”

“Finn,” Kurt interrupted, holding up a hand to silence the standing teen mid-sentence.  “Do you really think I would let this continue, that I would not advise David against this, if I thought there wasn’t a chance for his success?”

Finn understood Kurt’s position, that he cared just as much as the jock did, but Finn needed to press on anyway. 

Because at the end of the day, there was no chance for Kurt to remain completely objective here.

“I know you’ve thought about this Kurt,” Finn began, hand gripping lightly on the back of Blaine’s chair, bumping against the other teen’s shoulders.  “I know you well enough that you wouldn’t go into this without thinking things through.  But I also know that you would hope for Dave, root for him like he’s some kind of underdog in a feature movie, but this isn’t…this isn’t like that.  This is real life Kurt.  And in real life you don’t get these perfectly-balanced happy endings; you get chaos.  You get guys who aren’t bright but are ridiculously loyal, who will try to do just about anything they can for a friend; but despite these qualities, they’re still human Kurt.  The only thing you’re doing now is forcing Sam into a corner and he doesn’t deserve that.”

“Shouldn’t Sam get to speak for himself?” Kurt asked, voice low with obvious restraint, eyes flashing.  “That’s his choice right?  Shouldn’t he at least be aware of his options?  And besides that, shouldn’t Dave get the chance to fight for what he wants?  This isn’t a Dictatorship Finn, with you as the be-all, end-all authority on who can pursue romantic relationships with whom.  This is life,” he said, emphasizing Finn’s argument from earlier.  “And Dave deserves his chance.”

“I understand what your saying Kurt.”  Finn did, he really did.  “And hell, I even agree with you, but I can’t just sit around doing nothing when I know what’s going to happen when this goes south.”

“And what if it doesn’t?” Kurt countered, eyes narrowing in that insanely focused look that was reserved for things of the most importance.  “What if it all turns out fine?  What if Sam actually wants to date Dave?  Is it okay then, or does it still offend your masculinity to know that you’ve lost yet another one of your machismo-infused ‘bros’ to homosexuality?”

“You know that’s not what this is about Kurt,” Finn sighed, closing his eyes to escape the view of Kurt’s disappointment and barely-restrained anger. 

In front of him, Blaine remained silent, choosing to allow the two brothers to hash this one out which was, actually, something Finn was grateful for. 

Finn was actually surprised by the quiet response that broke into his reprieve, startled by how different the tone was now that he wasn’t looking.

“Yes Finn, I know.”  It was a murmured agreement, tired and soft, and when Finn opened his eyes again Kurt was focused on the far side of the room, perfect posture almost slouched against the back of his chair the only indication of sudden weariness.  “I know Finn,” he repeated, turning to stare at the other teen.  “I know your concerns, I know you don’t want Sam to be put in an uncomfortable situation, but I need you to let this happen.  I need you to give Dave a chance.  Let Sam live his own life.”

It was in that moment Finn understood this really had been an even conversation all along. 

He wasn’t the only one who was re-living flashbacks, Kurt was too.  And if Kurt knew, if he was aware of what could happen and was still rooting for Dave…

“After all,” Kurt continued.  “We ended up okay, eventually.”

“Yeah,” Finn replied, nodding as his eyes locked with Kurt’s.  “Yeah we did.”

It didn’t make Finn’s urge to protect Sam as best as he could any less demanding, those overprotective instincts of defending his friend now to make up for all the times he had stupidly stood by and done nothing roaring back with deafening thunder, but Finn knew that in the end, Kurt was right.  Even if Finn didn’t think Dave would succeed, Sam had a right to choose for his own life.  To respond how he wanted.  And that wasn’t Finn’s call.

“Okay,” Finn conceded, nodding slowly at the other two teens intently focused on him.  “You have a point.  I’ll back off.”

“Good.”

Some of the tenseness in Kurt’s shoulders seemed to dissipate after that, like that was one less burden he had to bear.  He visibly relaxed, sinking back into his chair and Blaine considered his position for about half a second before he gave up his spot by Finn and made his way by to his boyfriend’s side, back where he could give silent support and resume the loving-eyes from earlier.  As they all knew, loving gazes were more effective up-close.  It was science. 

Finn was about to ask what they should do now in regards to the whole fake-notebook situation when the door to the choir room burst open, a fairly regular occurrence in itself (Mr. Schuester had even installed better door stops to minimize wall-damage), and in strode Mike and Puck, dragging a still-protesting Sam between them.  It wasn’t until the door was closed again that Finn got a better look at them, the flurry of movement now ending into a silent standoff between Mike and Sam, the dancer firmly in place between the blond and the door.  Sam looked…jittery, sort of, clearly upset but not really with Mike.  He looked like he just really wanted to go somewhere, like it was important, but Mike was not having it.

“Mike,” Sam said, half-warning, half-pleading.

“Sam.” Mike’s response was quiet and reasonable, like they were having a normal conversation about the weather or something.  Behind him, leaning against the door, Puck frowned down at the state of his shirt, only paying half-attention to the proceedings playing out. 

It looked like Azimio was beginning to get more vindictive with his attacks because damned if Puck’s clothes appeared to be more stained than clean, remains of every color-spectrum of slushie littered across his body.  He was shivering too, which meant that at least some of the stains were fresh, but he continued to play it off.  If there was one thing Puck would never do, it would be to admit anything Azimio did affected him.  He would shave off his own Mohawk before doing that.   

“There’s nothing you can do to help him Sam,” Mike continued, tone even.  Finn would say he was calm were it not for the fact his hands were slightly shaking, like he was barely keeping it together.  The dancer forced himself to be cool, to stay collected because someone had to, but Finn was willing to bet anything the other teen would rather be fretting over Puck right now, just like Blaine was clinging to Kurt. 

“Of course I can help him!” Sam gestured wildly with his arms, throwing them out to exert some pent-up frustration.  “I could tell Figgins what Azimio did, I’m a witness-”

“But that won’t help you in the long run,” Mike replied calmly.  “Either one of you.”

“That doesn’t matter!” Sam snarled.  “Someone needs to do something-

“Wait,” Finn interrupted.  Sam’s anger might be well-founded, but with each outburst Mike was closer and closer to snapping.  Seeing as a stressed-and-ranting Mike didn’t normally assist with any situation (as past experience had told him), Finn decided to intercede, shifting the blond’s attention to him so that Mike could take a breather and gather himself.

See, that was team captain business right there.  He was a good leader.

…sometimes.

“What happened?” he continued, causing Sam’s expression to twist into this horribly pissed-off thing, hands clenched against his sides in a futile effort to contain himself.  

“What happened was that Azimio slushied his best friend and then tried to strangle him in the middle of the hallway!”

“Hold on a second,” Kurt was saying, perking up once enlightened on the situation, eyes concerned as they focused on Sam.  “What exactly-?”

But Sam was still going, already pacing frantic laps across the room as he continued his explanation.  “He was aiming at me and then Dave got in the way because he’s stupid-

“Because you’re friends,” Mike quietly murmured from his new position beside Puck, handing his boyfriend a roll of paper towels.  The dancer didn’t even flinch when Sam whirled around to face him, aggravated. 

“I can take my own bullyings, thanks.  I don’t need someone to get in the way and be stupid-

“Based on your ungratefulness he probably shouldn’t have,” Puck agreed with a slow drawl, patting down his Mohawk with expert care.

Ungrateful?” Sam echoed, mouth working around the word like he didn’t understand its purpose in the given situation.  “I’m ungrateful?  He just threw away a lifelong friendship!”

“Yeah, well it was with a shitty friend, so I don’t think he’s going to be too hung up on it,” Puck replied, unbothered by Sam’s raised voice.

Across the room the blond fumed silently, shoulders so tense they were hunching close to his neck, uncomfortable for Finn to even watch. 

“That doesn’t mean he should…” Sam sputtered, trying to think of an appropriate argument.

Mike took this opportunity to step back in.  “Dave makes his own choices Sam.  He did what was right for him; you can’t fault him for that.”

“Can we rewind for just a second here?” Kurt asked, finally moving to stand as he looked between the other teens, Blaine rising beside him.  “What exactly happened to lead to attempted-strangulations?”

“Karofsky finally chewed Azimio out,” Puck replied before Sam got a chance to.  “Awesomely entertaining to watch, though Azimio didn’t seem to appreciate it too much.”

Sam appeared to be in another world, reliving the events in the hallway. “He just threw it away, like it was nothing.”

“Good riddance, I say,” Puck mumbled, earning a sharp look from Sam as he snapped out of his funk.  “Azimio’s been a piece of shit his entire high school career.”

“But not to Dave,” Sam protested, clearly still bothered by the abrupt ending of Dave’s friendship.

Puck shrugged.  “That all changed about ten minutes ago.  Start living by the new rules Fish Lips.”

Kurt stepped in before the blond could reply, the beginnings of a protest on Sam’s lips interrupted by a few calming gestures as Kurt confidently strode in between the two teens.  “Alright, enough of that.  We’re moving on to things that we do have control over.  Does this sound pleasing to everyone?”

“Fine by me,” Puck replied, shrugging.  He immediately dumped the conversation after that, choosing to focus on Mike instead with an expression that pretended to be annoyed with the other teen’s hovering, but was ultimately glad for it.

Seeing as those two were accounted for, Kurt turned and leveled his gaze at Sam who was still pouting by the risers, arms folded across his chest in a sort of battle stance.  He was still aiming for a fight, too worked up to give in just yet. 

Kurt, recognizing this, sighed, and moved to stand in front of the blond.

“Damage control Sam,” he explained in a calm and level voice, attempting to sooth what little of Sam’s temper he could.  “There’s nothing we can do about the past; we simply have to prepare for the future.”

“I know that.” 

The quiet confession silenced whatever protest Sam had on his lips.  His eyes traveled over Kurt’s shoulder to Mike who was frowning unhappily, staring at Puck’s shirt.  “But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel…” the dancer trailed off with a shrug, eyebrows furrowing as though his thoughts pained him.  “I mean, I should have said something, right?  Since I am actually dating Puck.  They should be throwing slushies at me.”

“Mike-” Puck grabbed the dancer’s wrist gently, smart enough to recognize how distraught his boyfriend was, but Mike just shook his hand.

“If I had-”

If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers.”

The teens turned to stare at Kurt with blank expressions on their faces, with the exception of Blaine, who was looking up at the ceiling as though attempting to place the quote.

“Eurydice people, read the play,” Kurt huffed, too impatient to wait for their guesses.  He waved a hand at Mike, capturing the other teen’s attention and shifted into his signature Kurt-Hummel-gets-things-done pose.  It meant that some ranting was going to happen and so help them if they want to get through it all in one piece they had better not even think of interrupting.  It was no exaggeration, that was exactly what it entailed. 

Finn would know, he had been on the receiving end of it many times. 

“It is okay to mourn the actions of the past; we are people, we feel things, it’s part of our charm.  It’s not always to our benefit, but it happens.  Now this, this little pity party and anger-fest thing?  This is going to stop now, because we have stuff to do.  Time is a valuable commodity and we are not going to waste it focusing on things that are beyond our control.  From this point onward we are focusing on what should we do next.  We, as a team, to help Dave Karofsky.”

Kurt had been staring each of them over very carefully as he said this, giving them each a thorough examination to see that they understood.  He marched to the front of the room, over to the dry erase board where they all had a good view of him, and turned on his heel, looking every inch the social strategist as he had always made himself to be. 

“Because it sure as hell doesn’t look like anyone else is going to.”

It was a heartfelt moment, something practically out of a prime-time television show, inspiring teary eyes and good feelings all around.

This was probably why Puck decided to ruin it, because that was just the kind of thing he usually did.

“I feel like the American flag should be waving behind you,” the mohawked teen snarked. “Because if that wasn’t primo inspirational, surviving the apocalypse quality of speech-giving then I don’t know what is.”

“You are awful,” Mike murmured, though the smile plastered on his face canceled out the negativity of his words.  He leaned against Puck then, disregarding the slushie still soaked into the other teen’s clothes and the two of them wasted a moment being stupidly gooey and radiating lurve as was required by all couples.  Or they would die.

This was also science.

“Focus,” Kurt lectured with a snap, rolling his eyes at the other teens’ antics.  “Is that so much to ask for?  Honestly, you would think it was the most gargantuan undertaking in the world-”

Further complaint was interrupted by some insistent knocking against the door; forcing Puck and Mike to break away long enough to step aside, allowing the damn thing to fly open again to reveal an irritated Santana.

“Can you believe this bullshit?” she groused. 

Brittany, who had followed in after her, made a clucking noise with her tongue to object her girlfriend’s wording.  The blonde was pushing Artie’s wheelchair, and both the cheerleader and the bespectacled teen managed to look disappointed when Santana aimed an apologetic look over her shoulder. 

“Sorry,” Santana murmured.  “Can you believe this nonsense?”

“Dude, please tell me you are not self-censoring,” Puck moaned.  “I cannot lose another badass; we don’t have enough of those as it is.”

“First of all,” Santana began, hand propping against her hip as she aimed a fierce glare at him.  “There is nothing, read it, nothing I could do that would ever make me less badass than you.  That is all natural baby; I couldn’t fight that if I wanted to.  And second of all,” she turned to face Kurt, changing her voice into a more informative tone.  “It’s just the one word.  Britt’s developed an aversion to it.”

“It means poop,” Brittany supplied, eyes wide and beseeching.  “And Brittany S. Pierce does not support toilet humor.  That was the foundation of my campaign platform.”

“I thought your foundation was bribery and lies,” Finn said before he could really think not to.  Because he shouldn’t have.  Santana’s wrath and all that.

But Brittany didn’t seem to mind it too much, so he figured he was spared.  The cheerleader just turned her unblinking stare towards him and nodded thoughtfully.  “That was the first foundation, I decided to renovate.”

“I think I might have gotten lost in this metaphor,” Sam murmured, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.  He turned his attention towards a sympathetic Blaine, who assured him this was perfectly natural.

Blaine was sort of the go-to guy for that kind of thing.  Finn would be amazed at the guy’s patience were it not for the fact he dealt with Kurt in his most manic of states, so at the end of the day a certain kind of serenity was the least you could expect from that guy. 

Santana shook her head, realizing the conversation had devolved (as they usually did), and got back onto her original tirade.  “As much as I love to support your political policies Britt can we please focus on the big picture here?  Karofsky just got a face-full of slushie from that scumbag best friend of his and I’m willing to bet anything that no one’s going to get punished for it!”

“As it so happens we were just discussing that issue,” Kurt replied, eerily calm in the face of Santana’s temper.  “Trying to decide what we should do next.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Artie asked, adjusting his glasses carefully.  “We can’t even help ourselves when we get bullied, how are we supposed to help out Karofsky?” 

Which was…a very good point.

Finn eyed his step-brother expectantly, wondering what schemes he had working up in his head.  After the fictitious mystery case he had whipped up, Finn knew there was no end to Kurt’s back-up plans.

The answer, it turned out, was pretty simple.

“By welcoming him to the fold.”  Kurt gestured his arms wide accordingly, questioning anyone to doubt him.  “Dave obviously picked us over Azimio-”

“Which was pretty cool, by the way,” Artie interrupted, unperturbed by the annoyed it earned him.  “I mean, it’s cool that he put his money where his mouth was.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam asked, almost looking like he was gearing for a fight again, but Artie just shrugged.

“We know he’s not a dick to you guys anymore, but just the fact that he’s committed to not being a complete jerk anymore, that’s cool.”

“More than cool,” Finn added, just in case anyone was wondering his opinion on it.

Also, he hadn’t spoken in awhile, and that didn’t seem very leader-ly of him.

Artie nodded happily.  “Exactly.”

Finn turned to see Santana studying him curiously.  She was pleased with his response, obviously (she would have made it well known if she hadn’t been) but suspicious as to Finn’s sudden change of heart.  Being pro-Karofsky had not been one of his more noted features.

Before she could press onward with a possible interrogation Mercedes breezed into the room, Quinn and Tina on her heels, clearly ready for some discussions.

“Did anyone else see this?” the diva asked, offering her phone screen to the others where a loop of the Karofsky/Azimio confrontation was playing.  “I mean, is this for real?  Did this actually happen?”

What was more unbelievable to Finn was that someone had already uploaded video of this thing online.  Like, seriously?  It couldn’t have happened more than half an hour ago, how the hell did they manage to put it online?

Seriously, their internet connection had to be insanely fast for that to be managed.

“You think these stains are for show?” Puck drawled lazily, immediately ignoring the inquisitive look Mercedes sent his way in favor of focusing on the arrival of his girlfriend.  By the looks of it, he was more than happy to be tag-teamed by the Asian Fusion at this moment which was fine and all, were it not for the fierce scowl Mercedes was sporting in response to it.

“So it’s true?” Quinn said, stepping Mercedes could snap at Puck.  “It wasn’t staged or anything?”

“Dave wouldn’t do that.”  Sam clearly took offense at the comment and straightened up, preparing to step back up to bat in the must-defend-Karofsky game.

Luckily, Quinn saw this and nodded carefully, responding, “I just wanted to be sure Sam, explore all the options.”

Finn reached forward and grabbed at the riled blond’s shoulder, leaning down to whisper while the rest of the club continued talking.  “She didn’t mean anything by it Sam, just chill.”  At the jock’s extra annoyed look, Finn added, “We’re all on the same team here.”

That seemed to relax the other teen some, finally, but Finn kept his hand where it was, just in case. 

You know, for moral support and stuff.  It looked like Sam needed it. 

By the time Finn geared back into the conversation Mercedes appeared to be challenging Kurt, both hands firmly planted on her hips.  “What do you mean let him ‘join up’?  I know Karofksy’s been acting chummy with you guys lately but that doesn’t mean we should just welcome him in!  Do you even remember what he did to you?!”

“I appreciate your concern Mercedes; we all do, really,” Kurt replied, sure to keep his tone even and conversational in the wake of her argument.  “But I think it’s pretty clear to all of us that Dave’s turned over a new leaf.”

“That doesn’t mean-”

“He picked us over them,” Sam protested, shoulder tensing underneath Finn’s hand but luckily, making no move to approach her.  “That means something.”

“If we take it to a vote I say we let the lad in.”

Oh, hey- it was Rory, who seemed to have arrived with Joe and Sugar sometime when Finn had been comforting Sam.  The quarterback was happy to see a full club representation here (well, almost) and even more glad for a voice of reason, but he couldn’t help but wonder how everyone knew to gather here.

…wait, the texts he had received earlier probably had something to do with that.  Tina sending out the glee-signal or something.  That made sense. 

“I mean,” the Irish teen continued, blinking innocently in the onslaught of their surprised looks.  “The guy put a stop to a whole herd o’ jocks aiming to slushie me n’ Sugar.  Didn’t gain anything from it.  Far as I’m concerned, he’s golden.”

“I agree with Rory,” Sugar added, bright and earnest.  “Karofsky’s saved my awesome wardrobe like, five times.”  She turned to face Rory, eyes wide.  “And my favorite heels twice.  I owe him.” 

The glee club seemed to fall into a quiet sort of murmuring between them, all of them commenting on Karofsky’s deeds for the past few weeks.  Now that Finn thought about it, he had been free of a slushie-facial for quite awhile now.  He hadn’t even noticed it.

But Sam did, if the proud grin on his face was any indication.

Joe was the one that got the conversation moving again, dreadlocks swaying as his made his way toward the side of their subconsciously-formed circle.  “The Bible says to forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Exactly,” Quinn agreed, nodding.  “Who are we to turn someone away who’s searching for redemption?”

“Assholes.” This came from Puck, and when they all turned to stare at him he shrugged, explaining simply, “That’s who we’d be.”

“I would rather not be that,” Brittany declared, clapping her hands together as though a thought just occurred to her.  “That’s too close to toilet-humor.”

“That’s six votes pro-Karofsky then,” Quinn summarized.  “Who else is in?”  Her gaze smoothly glided over to Sam, graceful and deliberate, and she tilted her head in his direction.  “I can assume you’re a yes?”

“Definitely.” Sam agreed with a determined nod, then looked around the room as though daring anyone to disagree with him.

Before that could happen, Finn decided to step in.  “I’m for it.”

“Me too,” Tina and Mike said together, earning some amused chuckles from their boyfriend wedged between them.  The female leveled a lovingly-irritated glare his way but Mike didn’t even bother with the pretense of it, choosing to join in the laughter himself. 

It was sort of a survival instinct you picked up when dealing with Puck.

“I’ve already said as much,” Artie began.  “But just for the record, I vote pro-Karofsky.”

“As do I,” Blaine added, a shy smile plastered on his face that Finn would definitely say was proud, looking at all of them with respect and gratitude.

“As do I,” Kurt echoed.  Then he and Blaine shared yet another conspiratorial look that was well-practiced to the point that it should frighten Finn, yet he found that it didn’t, probably because of the obvious fondness shared between the two of them.

Okay, Finn could be good with this.  He could give Karofsky his shot at Sam.  Even if Finn didn’t think it would work, he could understand why Dave would want to try for something like Kurt and Blaine had.  Hell, like any couple had.  It was nice to have a best friend you could date.  Sort of made the entire experience so much better.

“Well look at you guys, getting your democracy on.” 

The new voice came from the door.  While it was surprising none of them had heard it open, Finn had to admit it was slightly more shocking to see Lauren Zizes standing in the threshold of the choir room as casual as could be, as though it were perfectly reasonable for her to appear after quitting last semester.  She continued over their shock, waltzing in slowly as she studied their faces with an expression of pure amusement.  “And here I thought glee club had a tyranny-based system of leadership run by that squawking midget that likes to yell so much.  Nice to see you guys try out something new.”

“Why are you here Lauren?” Blaine asked, stepping in before someone could take offense and shoot a smart comment back. 

Like, Santana and Lauren seemed cool enough nowadays, but it was usually better not to risk these kinds of things. 

Just common sense, you know.

Zizes smirked and walked over to the well-dressed teen in a manner that could only be described as cocky, coming to a halt beside him with a nonchalant shrug.  “After what happened to my boy Karofsky I figured he would end up here with you nerds. The way I see it, him joining up might just make this club bearable.”

Excuse me?” Mercedes began, rant prepared and ready to launch with the snap of a finger.  “Who the hell-?”

“So all I have to say is you’re welcome,” Zizes continued, talking over the rant with complete disregard.  “Seeing as you let anyone in here.  And if we’re going to do this fun exercise of ‘voting’, I cast my ballot with the pro-Karofsky party.  Again,” she said, smiling at the rest of the club smugly.  “You are welcome.” 

“Good to have you back bitch,” Santana called, cupping a hand around her mouth, but surprisingly enough there was no bite to her words.  If anything, Santana looked pleased with Zizes’ return. 

Finn decided it would be best for his mind not to look that particular gift horse in the mouth.  He didn’t care why they were friends now; he would just go with it.

Sure, this could be the warning signs of their inevitable team-up to take over the world, but for the moment no one was trying to strangle anyone else, so he decided it was cool.

“So we’re all agreed then?” Artie asked, hands folded in his lap as he moderated the conversation, calmly moving things along.

Kurt cleared his throat pointedly, capturing their attention.  “Not quite.”

As one, they all turned towards Mercedes, the process of elimination being pretty much instantaneous as they stared at the still-protesting girl. 

She studied them all for a moment, tensed and prepared for battle.  If there was anyone who would stick to their guns in the face of total adversity, it was Mercedes.  She fought for her principles - quitting the musical made that pretty damn clear - and if she honestly thought that letting Karofsky join up would hurt the glee club, then she would fight them to the bitter end.  It was, ultimately, for their benefit.  At least in her opinion.


But Mercedes also had a big heart and keen observational skills.  If everyone else was okay with this, including her fellow members of the God Squad, then odds were, this was a good move.

Finn held his breath and hoped that he was right in this case, and not just resorting to wishful thinking.  Or confusion.  It was very probably he had listed like, Rory’s traits instead of Mercedes’.  That happened sometimes.

But then Mercedes was sighing, rolling her eyes in exasperation.  “Fine,” she huffed.  “If you think it’s a good idea, I trust you.”

Finn wasn’t the only one who cheered when she conceded; Sugar and Sam were more than happy to join in while the rest of the glee club traded happy smiles.  Weird, that they had all come to be so celebratory over Karofsky of all people, but that was simply something you learned when living life in the glee club.  Everyone had hidden depths.  Even Brittany and her war against toilet humor.

“Don’t start celebrating just yet.”  Mercedes eyebrows raised as she continued informatively, “Zizes has a point.  We still have to run this by Rachel.”

Puck sighed.  “Yeah, and who knows what that psycho-”

Hey,” Finn protested, feeling injured on behalf of his girlfriend, but the other jock merely shrugged.

“You have to admit it’s kind’ve accurate.”

“Like you have room to talk Puckerman,” Santana quipped.

It took Mike and Tina about half a second before they realized what the Latina had implied and look the appropriate amount of peeved.

“Really Chang?” Santana challenged, hand resting against her hip as she cocked an eyebrow at Mike.  “We all know beneath that quiet exterior lies a remarkably manic individual.”

“I resent your accusation,” Mike mumbled, leaning his face against Puck’s shoulder bashfully.  “…even if they might be true.”

“I consider it a positive attribute,” Tina offered.  That was all it took for Mike to be back smiling, and then Puck was smiling, and then the trio-love-fest continued and-

Fo-cus,” Kurt ordered, one hand rubbing at his temple, probably getting a migraine from how easily they strayed off topic.

Finn would think at some point his brother would become more patient, but nope.  Not yet.

As he said, that was Blaine’s job.

“Finn,” Kurt continued, once he had assuaged his headache as best he could.  “Could you try talking to Rachel?  See how she feels about the whole Karofsky situation?”

“Or you could just skip the middle man and allow me to say for myself how I feel about the matters concerning David Karofsky.”

Rachel glided in like she owned the building, forceful and confident and yielding to no one.  She shot Finn a quick smile; though by the time he returned it she was already focusing on Kurt, arms folded across her chest as she assumed her very own Rachel-Berry-gets-things-done pose.  It was slightly more intimidating than Kurt’s was.

Finn liked to think that was because she had more practice. 

“I assume that’s what this little quorum’s about?”  she asked, and Finn was almost surprised her foot wasn’t tapping how impatient her look was as she awaited a response.

Kurt’s eyebrows raised towards his hairline, studying his friend quizzically, then shrugged.  “Yes.  We’ve decided to let Dave join glee club.  Assuming he wants to, of course.”

There were a few different reactions Finn had expected from his girlfriend, most of which involved words being spit out at a high fire rate, mercilessly bombarding the teens until they had no choice but to let her speak her piece, or to surrender, or for there to be some mad indignation, maybe a fight or two, something, but the thing Finn had not expected was to see Rachel’s combat pose dropped almost immediately.

But there it was, as Rachel clapped her hands together in front of her chest with a bright smile, almost swaying back and forth so extreme was her pleasure. 

She had been…wow. 

Okay, so Finn had not seen that coming.

“Brilliant,” Rachel chirped. 

Before anyone could question her, the short diva had ducked back out of the room, only to return a few seconds later with the main man himself, David Karofsky in tow.

The fact that the other jock was not staring down at Finn’s girlfriend with a look of utter befuddlement and confusion had to mean that he was actually familiar with the driving force that was Rachel Berry, or at least knew of it from Sam.  Instead of any protests the taller teen was eyeing the rest of the room uneasily, trying to figure out if he was welcome or not.

It figured that Sam would be the one to end that discomfort, sending his friend an enthusiastic thumbs up.  “Dude, we voted you in the club.”

“Really?” Dave asked, unable to completely fight off suspicion as he examined the members he was less-familiar with.  “It was that easy?”

“You stood up for us,” Artie replied, shrugging easily.  “It’s the least we could do.”

“You saved my shoes!” Sugar piped up, kicking out her foot in a dramatic flourish.  “You’re like a superhero.”

“So what we’re trying to say,” Kurt interrupted, smiling growing at Dave’s confused expression, unused to the enthusiasm of Sugar.  “Is welcome to the club.”

Finn couldn’t imagine what they looked like, just a small sea of faces turned towards Karofsky, eagerly anticipating his reply.

For the most part the teen looked solid- like, not as shaken as Finn would be if he had just lost everything.

He nodded slowly, and maybe Finn imagined the way he was swallowing afterwards, like he was unexplainable grateful for this opportunity but when he said “Thank you”, and it was obvious how heartfelt he meant it, Finn realized that maybe Dave needed them more than Finn had thought he did.

And Finn couldn’t really fault him for that.

“Don’t any of you guys have eight period?”  Karofsky groused, fidgeting under the bright smiles of Sam and Brittany as they crowded his sides, happy he had joined. 

The two of them simply laughed as they guide him to the risers.  “Emergency glee meeting, slightly more important,” Sam chirped.

“And while I appreciate the fact that you support each other-”

Karofsky was the only one surprised by the sudden appearance of Mr. Schuester, as the rest of them had all sort’ve gotten used to the director appearing when they least expected it.  Which…when you thought about it, made it when they most expected.

It was hard to understand, and it would probably take Dave a while before he figured it out, but it made sense. 

In the meantime Mr. Schue kept talking, already facing the dry erase board while the rest of the club happily took their seats.

“I would like to remind you, as a teacher, the importance of attending all of your classes.  Education is important, which is why this week’s lesson is about taking the high road, even when it isn’t necessarily the easiest, or the one most chosen by your peers.”

Picking up a black market he scrawled the word ‘PERSEVERANCE’ in big block letters, underlining it with a flourish before he turned back towards the students.

“For some of you, this is a lesson you’re already familiar with.” Mr. Schuester smiled down at the glee club’s newest addition.  “Welcome to New Directions Dave.” 

“Happy to be here,” Karofsky replied quietly and, refreshingly enough, he sounded genuine.  Despite what had happened to him, despite what he had traded, he was still very glad to be here.

And as Kurt and Rachel led an enthusiastic round of applause, while Sam hooted and pumped his fist and Brittany cheered for ‘Big Bear’ and Santana smirked and traded fist bumps with Zizes, while the Hebr-Asian Fusion laughed and Blaine grinned and even Mercedes had the barest beginnings of a smile, Finn figured that they were happy to have him too.

It was like that starfish thing right?  That story, the one about the lady carefully throwing all these starfish that had been swept up onto the beach back into the ocean?  She couldn’t get to all of them before some big storm was going to hit, she couldn’t save all of the starfish, but throwing back just one-

Just one made a difference.

That was a thought Finn would have to share with Rachel later.  Seeing how much she liked all star-related things.  It would be worth it, just to see her smile.

Stars and starfish.

Just one made a difference.

Chapter Text

The things Dave did for these people. 

Honestly.

When he had joined the spastic mania that was New Directions Dave had known, because he fancied himself a guy of decent observational skills, that his life was probably about to become slightly more…intense.  That was the word for it, intense.  With every conversation, every action, every casual look across the room being amplified by these seventeen-some-odd individuals stewing in their own microcosm of personal needs, it was a reasonable deduction.  And finally, finally Dave had a way to understand why that was the way of the world because it seemed that the attitudes of just about everyone else in the school fell into either the categories of one, total apathy, or two, unparalleled, vindictive psychopathy when it came to regarding the Glee Club. 

There was no range in between, believe him, Dave had tried looking for it, only to come up empty to the knowing, sympathetic eyes of Kurt and Rachel and a casual, “good effort” shrug from Sam.

So it was sort of reasonable for these people to be wrapped up inside each other’s lives.  Because they were the only ones that cared.  At school, of people their own age, they were the only ones that had anything at stake with each other.  So they took their interactions seriously, and their friendships seriously, which resulted in strong relationships, sure, but it also had its fair share of drawbacks.

When people who were this…passionate happened to co-mingle, on a regular basis, with no other outlets for their frustrations and sometimes unfortunately sharing the weight of a stressful social problem, building tensions could only be alleviated with one swift and fatal explosion of unforgettable consequences.  Either a brawl or a spontaneous song or a tear-laden, heart-wrenching confession or something was bound to happen because all of that shit had to go somewhere.

Or, if one was feeling especially sorrowful and desperately needed an escape, you could always turn to booze.

Of course, that always tended to lead to other problems.  

In their defense - not that Dave was feeling particularly strongly about supplying an argument for certain individuals at this exact moment - it had been a sort of awful week.  Dave had to resort to the “sort of” qualifier because he had been a little too occupied to notice how the rest of Team Glee’s week was going, but he could infer by the downtrodden expressions it wasn’t exactly pleasant.  At least, not for the ones he immediately cared about.  Sure, Sugar seemed to be doing fine all bright and bubbly and inhumanly happy across the hallway and- yes, that was all of that particular thought Dave managed to complete before he was hit by yet another slushie.  Luckily he hadn’t felt that one, his extremities having settled into that delightful feeling of pins in needles that pretty much numbed out the shocked sensation of extra ice. 

Dave surrendered and started wearing a waterproof windbreaker after the second day of his official Glee standing.  Zizes still hadn’t stopped making fun of his more it, but that was one of the few points he could argue her down from because she did not get the right to mock when she had not experienced it herself.  No, Lauren Zizes was a slushie repelling machine and Dave may or may not have started to unashamedly use that to his advantage.  Because he liked his face.  He liked it a lot, and anything he could do to prevent permanent loss of feeling in it was welcomed with wide open arms. 

So it had been a bad week.  A bad week for Dave, a bad week for Sam (who seemed to get ragged on more, supposedly for converting Dave), and it had been an especially bad week for the Hebr-Asian fusion, Puck suffering under his attacks in stubborn silence while Mike was consumed by his own guilt and Tina was stressed out of her mind trying to keep a healthy balance between the two, which was a gargantuan feat in itself because even Coach Sylvester new about how badly those particular individuals were at communicating.  Knew and didn’t even try to use it to her advantage, that was how pathetically sad it was. 

Increased slushies, mild altercations with the jocks whenever Mike tried to fight in Puck’s defense, which got Puck riled because he did not care what happened to him but screw with his boyfriend and so help you misfortune and misery were coming your way, swift and brutal.  And by that point at least half of the Glee Club would have rallied, signaled by an emergency text system thing they had set up, and break up the mess quick and simple before any teachers got involved.  Turned out, aside from Dave’s little fight with Azimio, those didn’t tend to go so well for New Directions.  Ever. 

And Dave himself was having his fair share of fights with Sam, the blond wanting to come to his defense and Dave wanting to go to Sam’s defense and both of them arguing long enough to meet a slushie wave head on, no arguments, and still be mad at each other by the time it was done. 

Were Dave being honest, he would say he was not surprised by how quickly the rest of the football team had turned on him.  That didn’t make it suck any less, but at least he wasn’t trapped under the delusion that he was getting any invites on X-Box live that weren’t from the glee club.  Or that they would pull their punches.  Or that they would stop egging his car.

(Dave had long decided if New Directions ever managed to overthrow the school’s current social hierarchy those asshats would be assigned to the gracious duty of making his vehicle absolutely sparkling every, single, day.  And they would be grateful for it.)

What did surprise Dave was that he didn’t see Azimio nearly as much as he expected to.  He had assumed his best-

His ex-best friend would be bitter and need an outlet for that, but it turned out Azimio’s appearances were more out of obligation than anything else.  At least, as far as Dave knew.  He showed up about twice a week to establish his dominance, throw a few well-aimed slushies and few hateful words, and aside from that, nothing.  Unless he was the individual responsible for orchestrating the offenses done to Dave’s car, but that was unlikely, because that was sort of sacred ground for Azimio.  You could hate a guy, but you did not mess with his ride.  There were standards. 

It didn’t make Dave any happier when he got to participate in the sport of frantically cleaning off his car before his mom got home, or make it any more appealing, but it did bring his mind a small token of comfort, which was really all he could ask for.  It was the small things.

Sort of like the precious few moments he managed to spend with Sam.

With Dave no longer in possession of his high social standings, the old intimidation and seniority that had once seemed so off-putting no longer worked its charm.  Like the rest of Glee Club, he was either invisible or a target, which meant that most of the times he hung out with Sam now had to be done in secure locations, or there would be interruptions.  Unpleasant ones; ones that hurt.  They had adapted accordingly, sticking to places like the choir room or their houses to stay safe, but it was really starting to cut into their friend-time, and Dave was not liking that.  He was not liking that at all.

Especially now that he had- no, scratch that, now that he got to participate in glee rehearsals now, which he would have thought would be good for bonding but no, as it turned out spending an hour trying not to hopelessly trip over your own feet had a way of taking priority over simple things like interactions.

It made Sam smile, which was a plus, but now Dave was stuck in this thing called “Booty Camp” and why, why was this the name, he could not stand it, it hurt his head, but he couldn’t protest because he was in Glee Club now and even if he stubbornly stayed in the back the entire time he still had to know the dances. 

On the plus side, Sam came to “Booty Camp” because Finn had to be there and Kurt had to be there and those were his two rides home, but he hadn’t had to participate.  Not this time.  Apparently those moves the blond had been practicing during their “investigation” time had been part of their performances and Dave hadn’t even known it.  So the blond got to look on from the audience, laughing at their mistakes and cheering them on for a particularly hard dance move.

Some of these things, Dave swore, were impossible.  He tried to tell Mike as much (and then stubbornly ignore whenever the dancer “helpfully” demonstrated) but no one was having it.  Not Finn, who had to put up with it all year, or Kurt, who at least had rhythm, or Mr. Schuester, who seemed to find Dave’s protests an entertaining kind of endearing.  Like a wayward duckling that would see the light soon. 

It was unnerving.

But Dave tried, because he owed them all that much, and even though it killed a lot of his free time, moments he didn’t have to spare, he still felt really good about it.  Like even with all these added people between them he was getting closer to Sam.

And then he got the phone call. 

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

It didn’t change very much, just the call itself.  Dave had been studying, or working on a project, or something assuredly school-related he couldn’t exactly remember anymore, when he got it.  Bemoaning his lonely status on a Friday night, but understanding the necessity.  School was important, he had to do…school.  Yes, whatever it had been. 

He had been distracted, sorting through a disorganized mob of papers on his bed while he searched in vain for something, when his phone rang, such a deceptively far distance on his nightstand.  He lunged for it, cursing as papers tumbled to the floor but beyond caring, just, done with it all, because this was a ringtone he welcomed.  It wasn’t Rachel or Kurt or one of his ex-acquaintances preparing to unload some strings of obscenities and “well deserved” abuse, but Sam.  And anything from Sam, at this particular moment, was a welcomed reprieve, because Dave had a headache threatening to surrender into a full-grown migraine and his eyes were strained from all the numbers he had been staring at and the cricks in his back…they were less than pleased, so less than pleased with their state, and any interruption, especially one from Sam, would be celebrated. 

“Hello?” Dave gasped, stretched across the bed with his phone jammed against his ear, hoping he picked up in time.

Please let it be an invitation to their thirtieth viewing of Avatar, Dave could so use an evening of staring at colorful, pretty things on the screen while attempting to juggle popcorn into his mouth.  That sounded, that alone, sounded brilliant, and Dave was so ready, eagerly awaiting the onslaught of super enthusiastic Sam babble to hit his ears in a flurried rush. 

When this was not immediately the case, Dave became a bit worried.

On the other end of the line there was nothing, just, the empty void of no connections.  Maybe Sam had pocket-dialed him on accident?  That happened sometimes but it was still salvageable because Dave could call him back and see about the movie thing-

Daaaaaave,” Sam’s voice cheerfully answered, pleasure conveyed by the extended vowel, like he was entertaining himself.  “Dave, my man!”

They fell into a pause, Sam content for not supplying the reason for his call.  Dave took this time to confirm with a sourful note that yes, this call had been intentional, and no, good things were not happening.

Dave sighed, not bothering himself with an attempt to disguise it, and stared up at his ceiling, exasperated. 

“Sam,” he said, voice firm and clear.  “Are you drunk?”

The following pause was confirmation in itself, Sam busy deliberating, meaning his thinking was impaired, meaning he was, in fact, drunk. 

When the blond finally answered his cheer remained undeterred, and if Dave had to stretch, there was a bit of pride in his voice.  “You’re smart Dave.  You’re so smaaaaaaaaaaaaart.”  Sam laughed, and in the background Dave could hear the drunken chortles of others, Mike and Tina, definitely, and maybe Puck. 

“That’s one of the reasons I like you so much,” Sam continued, his pleasure with Dave now transcending to a pleasure with himself, like he was proud of this discovery and that was something that should be shared.  Happily. 

“Great,” Dave replied half-minded, already pulling himself off of his bed and strategizing a plan of action.  “That’s great Sam.”

“Daaaaaaaaaaaave,” Sam slurred again, Tina joining in as a distant voice, like it was some kind of new game.  “Dave, we’re having drinks to have fun Dave.  And we had it, the fun, but you’re not here and that’s sad.  That’s sad Dave and you should be here, having fun.”

Dave shoved his shoes on, ahum-ing at all the appropriate moments and making encouraging noises, knowing there was very little he could say that would affect Sam’s mood right now.  The blond was oblivious to anything, especially anything that resembled common sense, and part of Dave was mad, furious, that they would risk this stuff, risk getting caught drunk just to- he couldn’t, he couldn’t form complete sentences in his mind right now because he was just so pissed, and worried, and who knew what those idiots were doing-

“Dave,” Sam’s voice was loud and insistent, enough for Dave to realize the blond had been echoing his name several times, trying to get his attention.  “Dave,” Sam continued.  “I don’t remember why I didn’t call you at first, ‘cuz you’re like, my favorite pal and- no,” Sam’s head turned away, voice distant as he addressed someone on his side of the line. “Shut it Puckerman, I will not take that crap from you-” he turned back, probably scowling if Puck’s laughter, now confirmed, was anything to go by.  “But I didn’t.  I didn’t call then so I thought I’d call now, so you can have fun.”

“Where are you Sam?” Dave snatched his car keys off the hook by his door – an arrangement Sam had once found amusing in its inherent organization – and grabbed his jacket off the back of the desk chair, just in case Sam needed some coverage, or something.  Dave didn’t dwell on it much, but it never hurt to be prepared. 

His mom was out, Woman’s Council, at the church perhaps, or one of her other volunteer things.  Hopefully Dave could complete this mission before her return, but if he didn’t he could always beg off any punishments by stating it was for a friend.  She respected that and he was rarely out of the house when he wasn’t supposed to be.  It was an honor system he respected, and with his dad away on a business trip Dave had been self-enforcing.  Bending the rules this one time wouldn’t kill him. 

He would feel slightly guilty for it later, but the overwhelming call of Sam was enough to pull Dave through that lull. 

“Tiiiiina’s house,” the blond sing-songed, earning a rowdy cheer from his drunken compatriots.  “Puck got the drinks an’ Mike an’ I brought the abs-”

“Still feel ripped off,” Puck grumbled, sounding only half-committed to being bitter, the rest of him too entertained.

“You’re welcome!” Sam declared, missing the protest and inserting what thanks he believed should have been in its place.  “An’ no one’s here but us and we neeeeeeeed you-”

“I don’t,” Puck insisted, scoffing.  “But he’s been whining for like, the past-”

The teen was unceremoniously cut off with a scuffle, between him and Sam if the cheers of Mike and Tina told anything, and eventually Sam made his way back to the phone, panting mildly.  Which didn’t do things to Dave’s libido.  It didn’t.

“So you should come,” Sam breathed, sounding hopeful and informative at once.  “Come and help us make popcorn, because Mike can’t, he tried and it went badly and we can’t turn off the Lion King, it just keeps looping-

‘Oh I just can’t wait to be KIIIIING’,” Mike cheered from the distance, sounding unbothered by this arrangement. 

“Like that,” Sam continued, sounding pleased with Mike’s addition, like it helped his argument.  “So you should come.  Will you come?”

Despite the fact that Dave was already in his car, seatbelt buckled, mirror adjusted, waiting patiently to end the call so he could look up Tina’s address from where she had programmed it in his phone, he still put in a pause for thoughtful silence, as though he had to consider this (and not because he was a little dazed by the blatant hope in Sam’s voice, how badly he wanted Dave to be there).

Eventually Dave shrugged, giving his rear view mirror one last adjustment, and replied.  “Sure Sam.”

And how was that for playing it cool?

The best, that was what.

And when Sam cheered, “Thanks Dave!”, inspiring likewise exclamations from the other drunken morons in his vicinity, Dave did not feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Because Sam was drunk, and drunk versions of people have a way of doing things that sober versions would never consider doing.  So…that was that then.

Just, get there, get Sam, and then take him home, Dave thought, trying to keep it simple.

Maybe if the plan was simple there would be no way he could screw it up.

Or at the very least, Dave could allow himself the delusion that would be the case, and then he could save the freaking out for when things inevitably got out of hand.

After all, Dave fancied himself a practical person.

 

-:-:-:-:-:-

 

The state of Tina’s living room did not appear to be completely unsalvageable; with enough determination one could hypothetically clean the carpet of all the scattered pretzels, cheese puffs, and Ritz crackers, if they were stubborn.  The smell of burnt popcorn was distinct in the air, overpowering any odors that dared to oppose it but aside from that, and other wayward food items, everything appeared to be in one piece.  Dave had been relieved at that, knew from a few unpleasant experiences with game after-parties how much damage just a few inebriated teenagers could manifest.  Clean up was made much easier when you didn’t have broken furniture to deal with, but knowing Tina she had probably laid down the law before hand, and based on what Dave had heard these four were more jovial drunks than belligerent. 

Still, as Dave eyed the impressive ratio of empty bottles to teenagers, he decided that recruiting some backup would not be unwarranted.  Kurt would be a good choice, probably.  Or maybe Santana, if she thought the opportunity to obtain blackmail material was strong enough.  Dave would think it over.

“Dave!” Sam cheered, thrusting fist into the air triumphantly as Tina wobbled her way over to the couch the blond and the other three idiots were sprawled across, the lone female having been nominated to let Dave in.  “You’re here!”

“Yep,” Dave agreed, frowning at the way Tina collapsed on top of Puck, settling against her boyfriend with a contented smile and consciously ignoring any gruff protests. 

Water, they needed water.  That would make their hangovers slightly less horrific. 

“Here!” Sam enthusiastically waved an empty bottle in Dave’s direction, smile brilliant as he lurched over the arm of the couch, offering it to him.  “You should…drink.  Drink for you!  We are share-ers.”

“Speak for yourself,” Puck muttered, and then was instantly distracted when Tina made grabby hands at his chin, smashing their faces together with such lack of coordination it was almost artful. 

“I shall!” Sam agreed happily, grin widening at Mike’s hum of agreement, both oblivious to the fact that Puck was no longer listening.  It didn’t seem to bother Sam much, didn’t deter his happiness one inch as he kept his focus on Dave, bottle extended.  His grip on the neck of it was shaky, at best, a clear warning of soon-to-be broken glass, so Dave kept his attention on that.  Just kept his attention on relieving Sam of his burden, (ignoring how casually their fingers touched because that wasn’t something that required mentioning) and successfully pulling the bottle from Sam’s reach (and not looking at how good his hair was all disheveled, his bottom lip, wet and red from the number of beer bottles pressed against it-)

“Thank you,” Dave said, pulling his gaze away from Sam with a swallow, taking a rough estimate of how much each of them had drank.  “How much have you guys had?”

“Individually?” Mike asked, grinning over the top of his beer bottle, eyes focused on Sam’s antics. “Or collectively?  Because I can answer neither.”

Beside him, the blond had twisted so that his back was sprawled over the arm of the couch, head and shoulders hanging upside down, over the edge. 

 “Thank you Mike.” Dave was sure to keep his tone pleasant, no longer surprised by the mild urge to strangle when it attacked.  “That was very helpful.  And also,” he reached forward, snagging the bottle  from the dancer’s uncoordinated hands before he could protest.  “I think you’ve had enough.”

Boo,” Puck cheered, gaining enough awareness to pick up on when the booze was getting cut off.  “Buzzkill.”

“Go back to making out with your girlfriend,” Dave ordered, not wanting to deal with that particular individual at the moment.  Luckily Tina supported this plan, and Dave got the next few minutes of his life to be Puck-free as she eagerly picked up where they had left off.

Deciding to push his luck, Dave quickly relieved Puck and Tina of their bottles too, making a fast trip to the kitchen to locate a garbage bag.  He found a box and set off back to the living room, determined, firing off a few texts to Kurt to get scrawny butt over here.  If Dave got to deal with this, so did he.  That was like- basic fairness.  Probably.

When Dave returned Sam had managed to get himself upright and appeared to be trying some complicated hand game with Mike that neither one of them could remember the motions to.  The end result was a lot of smacked faces and laughter which was fine, it was fine, but Dave just wished they would stop leaning so damn close together, just, he was a teenager with hormones and they were two guys he had once crushed and was currently crushing on, and even he had his limits-

Daaaaave,” Sam called, collapsing against the couch with string of drunken giggles, amused by the last in a long line of failures.  “Dave you’re…we’re supposed to do fun things.”

“I am having fun.” Dave had consciously kept his eyes glued to anywhere that wasn’t the couch, searching for any more bottles he had missed, the remainder of the beer safely hidden out of reach.  “This here,” Dave continued, doing his best to placate Sam, in case he turned out to be a touchy drunk.  “This is fun.”

“…do you mean it?”

It was the tone that got Dave. 

That was what made him stop.  It was the first…that wasn’t to say Sam didn’t sound happy, because he did, but he had also sounded…genuine.  Like he really cared, he so transparently needed and wanted Dave to be having a good time too, because Dave was his friend, and Sam cared about him.

And there was also so much of that Dave could read into, so very much his mind would happily pick up and run with like a madman clinging to a dying dream, and Dave normally wouldn’t, because he was a realist, but in that exact second he was struck by the overwhelming want to do so.  Like maybe just this once…

Before he could reply, Puck cut in with a scoff, loud and graceless, and Dave looked back in time to see him roll his eyes in a painfully exaggerated way.  “Seriously, just makeout with him Evans.  You know you want to; we know you want to-”

Oh God- no, nononononononononoooooo- let them be forgetful drunks, Dave thought, pleading and praying as though it would make a damn difference, let them find that funny and let Sam not freak out about that-

Outside the frantic ramblings of his mind, the conversation continued, blithely carrying on without a care to Dave’s actual participation.

“I can’t do that,” Sam protested, scrunching his nose at Puck.  “He’s my best friend, you can’t-” he elbowed Mike in the stomach, who had been stuck in a dreamy stare down with Tina. “Tell ‘em Mike.”

“Wha-?” Mike blinked a few times, mouth hanging open as he considered, but managed to do a quick mental recap and catch up, understanding the question without clarification.  “Who said that?”

Sam gestured vaguely, hands traveling up and out as though to demonstrated the whole world.  “You know,” Sam began, frustrated with his lack of communication.  “It’s like a rule.”

“Well it’s a dumb one,” Mike declared with a haughty tilt of his head.  “You should be allowed to makeout with whoever you want, best friends included.”

“In fact,” Mike continued, a dangerous look of determination making its way onto his face, one that never made for good things.  “It should be mandatory,” he declared, thrusting a triumphant fist into the air.  “To makeout with your best friends.  A rule!  ‘Cuz if you can’t makeout with them, who can you makeout with?” 

“This logic,” Dave began to say, somehow managing to find his voice through the horror that had descended upon him.  “I don’t think it’s quite-”

“Quiet you!” Mike waved a menacing finger in his direction, attempting to look authoritive and all knowing.  “You cannot defy the Makeout Rule!  For it is the rule-!”

“Hey rulemaster,” Puck called out, one hand cupped around his mouth, the other wrapped around Tina who was pouting at their makeout interruption.  “Isn’t Sam your best friend?”

It was pretty much the equivalent of explaining the meaning of life to Mike at that exact moment; the dancer’s eyes widened, amazed and confounded by this undeniable truth and Dave should stop this- should have stopped this earlier, way earlier-

But then Mike Chang was collapsing back onto the couch, draping himself across Sam Evans and, with a look of determination that could not be equaled, enthusiastically beginning to makeout with him, the blond, Dave’s friend, Mike’s best friend, Sam Evans.

And then, just to make matters that much better, Sam Evans started kissing him back.

Which made Dave’s previously existing hatred for alcohol all that much greater.

Despite whatever distractions Dave had wanted to pacify himself with it just…it kept happening, even after Puck and Tina lost interest and turned to their own entertainment, it just kept going on.  It was a fact Dave’s mind was struggling to cope with, half-believing that perhaps he had fallen asleep in the middle of his frantic studies and apparently this was the end result, but it was real.  He knew it was real because even his subconscious would not want to deal with drunken Puck and- Sam and Mike, as though this were normal, as though this were an understandable happening, were just- sure, they were drunk, but inebriation, Dave knew from his own pitiful experiences, had its limits.  There were still lines somewhere. 

Lines Sam’s mind should have met, examined, and dutifully walked away from, regardless of how good a friend he was, but instead there was this, this…thing of them making out, leaving Dave to watch, slack jawed, as his past and current objects of affection went to town on each other’s faces.

He vaguely felt like he should be recording this, and that thought was immediately greeted with an overwhelming backlash of “No, stop it, be a responsible and respectful friend” from his brain clashing with a “Yes, we should do this thing, why aren’t we doing this thing, DO THIS THING” from Dave’s less refined yet persistently excited lower regions.  It was an altogether unpleasant combination, ending with a sickening feeling of guilt in his stomach and some remarkably exciting feelings in his pants. 

It was very conflicting. 

It also felt like there was a veritable range of emotions that should also be bombarding Dave that he was neglecting (confusion maybe; horror, a possibility, perhaps a bit of jealousy?), and as sure as he was of them rearing their ugly heads later, for the present, Dave was stuck between being dumbfounded and appreciative, trying to keep his eyes averted from the way Sam’s hands grabbed at Mike’s back, at the way the dancer towered over the blond, dominating, and the stupid (awesome) sounds they were making, and how-

“Sam.” Mike pulled back, gasping, lips pink and smirking, a dopey, pleased grin.  He combed a hand sloppily through the other teen’s hair.  Sam (the traitor?  Dave’s not sure if it really applied) leaned into it, eyes closed with a hum of contentment. 

“Sam,” Mike continued, gaze shifting from the blond leaning against him to Dave.  Despite the alcohol, Dave could see the wheels turning in his head, some craftiness at play, and the smile transformed into something more sinister.  Almost, dare he think it, devilish.  “Dave’s your best friend too right?

Mike finished this with a thumbs up to Dave, something the sober teen could only give the briefest second of attention because then Sam was perking up, realizing the truth of this statement.

“That’s right,” Sam agreed and then, for a split second, they were both smiling at Dave, beaming like they shared in a victory.  For a moment, Dave almost felt like a winner with them.  He stupidly allowed himself to relax, despite himself, despite knowing better, and that was really all it took for him to completely let his guard down.

It happened in slow motion, except it didn’t because it was real time, but somehow felt like hyper time?  But the next thing Dave knew he had an armful of giggling (giggling, this was no overstatement, merely a simple delivery of facts) Sam Evans, and then the second after that he had a face-full of Sam Evans, and it was, undoubtedly, the best face to ever been seen in that particular position. 

It was mere reflex that had Dave wrapping his arms around the other teen’s waist, because it was improbable that Sam would be able to remain standing on his own.  That could be the particular reason for the way he had latched onto Dave, slinking almost into him in a manner that was just horribly unfair, so close to things he shouldn’t want to be close to and it would be better if the blond stopped grinding on-

But face.  Just, face and Sam, kissing him- goddamn- it was happening, this was not some torturous daydream but the real deal, lips soft and wet and eager, sloppy but making up for that and then some with enthusiasm alone and Dave probably shouldn’t be responding but damnit, damnit, damnit he was human.  He had limits too and the way Sam kept pressing so close until there was nothing- grabbing and pressing and not stopping-

Dave was human, and Sam tasted like cheap beer and cherry chapstick and had octopus hands that were pretty much everywhere, sliding up Dave’s front around his back down to- and he was constantly moving, an impressive feat in itself because he shouldn’t be able to manage that much, not when he couldn’t even do a high five but then again hand-eye coordination didn’t really have much to do with stamina and will did it and-

Why?  Just- it was the best, in that second, exactly what Dave had wanted.  Validation for his attraction, total confirmation that this was him, this was real, this was what he wanted, but the stinging question of why continued to play in his head, and hope, so strong and defiant kept building, supported by Sam’s care and his want and his willingness, his sadness for Dave not being there, his-

It took Dave a few seconds to realize Sam had pulled away, when he discovered it wasn’t so hard to breathe now and gulped gasps of air like it was his lifeblood (and it was, whatever, but-), waiting for Sam to recover so they could do that again, or more, because Sam hadn’t moved away, but maybe, perhaps maybe Dave shouldn’t be taking advantage of this (oh, there you are common sense.  In case you were wondering, you weren’t missed) and then Sam was looking up at him, eyes squinted.

“I think,” Sam began, sort of dazed, eyebrows furrowed.  “I think that…”

It was the small sound of rejection, a hummed protest in the back of Sam’s throat that had Dave moving, shifting the blond in his arms, turning him away.  The move was executed just in time for Dave’s fears to be confirmed, Sam upchucking all over the hardwood floors with an unceremonious gargle. 

Out of respect, Dave averted his eyes, allowing Sam what little dignity he could offer until the gagging subsided and Sam went still, sagging against Dave’s chest with a pathetic groan. 

It was pretty much the equivalent of a cold shower, helpfully bundled with a wake-up call. 

This was the reality Dave lived in.  Not fantasy land, here.  And there were still a few problems here that needed to be dealt with.

Dave had located the nearest bathroom on his way in for just such a reason, and was already hauling Sam towards it, knowing based on intake alone Sam wasn’t quite finished yet.  He was right, again, because Dave was unfortunately gifted that way, unfortunately perceptive, and he took what solace he could from rubbing a gentle hand on Sam’s back, giving the blond what comfort could be offered in between bouts of vomiting.

Yes, it was the perfect picture of romance. 

“Sorry…sorry Dave,” the blond gasped, looking the epitome of dejected at his sudden sickness.  “I didn’t mean to…”

Dave rushed to console the other teen, squeezing his shoulder for added emphasis.  “It’s okay Sam.  I don’t mind.”

“Of course you don’t.” There was a pout now, small and petulant and dangerously attractive settling on Sam’s lips.  “You don’t get bothered by anything, you’re like, Superman good.”

“…Thanks?”  Dave said, not sure how he should take that, and the other teen gave him an exasperated look.

I’m not Superman good,” the blond huffed, drumming his fingers against the side of the toilet, glaring down at its porcelain whiteness. 

“Well…” Dave was not equipped to deal with self-hating Sam, he was barely able to deal with plain ole’ drunk Sam and the changes in mood here were getting a little too extreme for him to cope with at this exact moment, so he was kind’ve at a loss for what to say. 

Turned out, his buying time ploy didn’t work so well because Sam just stared at him critically, an open challenge, like Dave had confirmed it even though Dave hadn’t but he was going to or something-

“You’re Sam-good,” Dave settled on, earning a snort from the blond, like it was a cop-out, but Dave continued.  “You’re Sam-good and you know what? I like Sam-good, so if you’ve got problem with that, with my opinion, then I must not be quite as uh…”

“Superman good?” Sam offered, but he was smiling now, a shy, coy thing, no longer doubting, and Dave couldn’t help but smile back.

“Yes,” he confirmed.  “Then I must not be as Superman good as you think I am.”

Though when that became the scale of measurement for the quality of someone, Dave did not know.  He was just sort of riding the tide here. 

It had been a long evening.

“Okay,” Sam agreed, giving a jerky, uneven nod.  “Sam-good’s good.”

“Exactly.”

They looked at each other, and just like that it was like any other time they were hanging out, shooting the breeze, sharing easy smiles and slow comfort, because they were friends.

And then Sam’s expression soured, and with an unpleasant gag he was back to wrenching into the toilet. 

So…

That pretty much summed up the evening. 

Chapter Text

Sam was not a winner.

It was a terrible thing, because Sam kind’ve had a thing for being a winner.  In a figurative sense as well as, you know, the literal one.  There was confidence and stuff that came from winning, this nice sort of feeling of elation, of victory, of knowing that overall, you did better than all your opponents, which was a greater comfort than most people realized.  Or maybe they did, and that was why people tended to get so crazy about it sometimes.

Unfortunately, at the moment Sam wasn’t even in the same realm as a winner, let alone the figurative, good-feelings a win would instigate and was actually, in the most literal sense, sick of himself. 

Really, the drinking thing had seemed like an awesome idea at the time.  After Puck had won Tina over it seemed stupid not to agree to the Hebr-Asian Fusion’s plan of drinking their sorrows away until the world was a bright ray of sunshine and the worst thing that could happen to you was running out of beer.  Puck’s suggestion of weed had been overturned almost instantly, neither Tina or Mike (or Sam, not that either of them had bothered asking the blond’s opinion), wanting to get near the stuff.  The drinks were a happy compromise, even if the ridiculous amount of calories would catch up to Sam later and heave enough guilt onto him to encourage a few intensive workout sessions, Sam decided it was worth it.

The week had been awful, with a renewed intensity to his slushie attacks and the jocks hiding even more disgusting things in his locker as a happy surprise, with he and Dave on the outs, with Mike and Puck on the outs, with barely being able to get through a period with completely dry, clean clothes, it had been a bad week.  They deserved some down time.

Sam hadn’t invited Dave.  Not that he was angry with the dude but…well; he couldn’t help but feel that Dave would be disappointed in them.  Despite his past actions, Dave was a pretty ethical guy and tried to avoid things that were too crazy.  So this drunk bonding thing, as fun as it could be, could also lead to an angry Dave Karofsky glaring them all into submission until the booze was put away. 

Not the best alternative.

The blond had almost considered going through with his invite to Dave anyway, just to see the other teen’s actual reaction, but had backed out at the last minute.  Sam didn’t want any more conflict with Dave and besides, Puck would be pissed if his “party night” (the quotes established by him, claiming that four people getting drunk was a damn disgrace, not a party) was interrupted.

If Dave ever figured out about it, Sam would apologize, receive his little lecture, agree, and all would be well.  Yeah and…what was that thing his dad always said?  It was easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.  Not that Sam had to run his social calendar by Dave or anything, but still, it kind’ve applied.  Right?

Things had started getting hazy into his third drink and after that Sam lost track completely, the world going sideways until his phone appeared in his hand, dialing the number he knew on pure reflex, his mind occupied with other things like locating another beer and searching for Cheatos and helping Mike put out the popcorn fire.  Small things.

Honestly, Sam couldn’t even remember the conversation, had completely forgotten it had happened at all until Dave rang the doorbell.  The sound somehow jogged his memory enough for him to see it, envision it in his head, and bell equaled Dave so loudly that he couldn’t help but cheer, because there was Dave and things, things were so much better with Dave.

The rest of the evening was not something Sam was proud of.

Granted, he had not expected to come out of an evening where his only intention was to get plastered with very much pride at all, but at least he had gone in with the knowledge that anyone, mainly Dave, would ever witness it.

Except Drunk-Sam had forgotten about that, much like he forgot to have common sense and personal boundaries and other shit, and his pride, much like his self respect, had flown right out the window.

He had acted like an asshat.

Just, an awful, awful person.

So…it had been awhile for Sam.  For, you know, specific interactions of the especially sexy nature.  Up close physical contact. 

Making out.

It had been awhile.  Sam thought that hadn’t bothered him and it didn’t seem like a ridiculous assumption.  When he was sober it didn’t really bother him, because that meant he was mature, that meant he was in control, that meant he could achieve other things that didn’t involve catering to his hormones.  For the most part, Sam felt great about that.

But only Sober Sam.  Because apparently Drunk Sam had different priorities. 

The horrible morning-after conversation Sam had with Mike was enough to make him want to swear off alcohol until he was at least thirty, both of them consciously avoiding eye contact with the bruises and bite marks they had inflicted on the other person, the rest of the encounter too overcome with booze for them to remember many details except for the feel and the heat and the thriving-

And yep, Sam should not think about it.  Thinking about it let Drunk Sam’s actions affect Sober Sam in an unpleasant way, and Drunk Sam did not deserve that kind of power, no he didn’t, he didn’t get to ruin Sober Sam’s long string of maturity and self control and respect just because he thought it had been awhile.

They managed, somehow, to end the conversation with a few laughs, once they realized how awkward both of them felt about it, and carry on with their friendship just as easily as before.  They left bros, even after Puck and Tina had sufficiently given Sam the stink eye (despite the fact all of them blamed Drunk Puck for starting this mess), and moved on.

Aside from some bitter feelings on Sam’s part on the behavior of his drunken counterpart, he didn’t have many complaints.

Then, of course, the blond remembered the second half of his evening’s adventures, and felt sick and angry all over again.

Dave too.  Of course he would make out with Dave too.  It wasn’t enough that Drunk Sam had made moves on Mike, he had also practically forced himself upon Dave who had only been trying to help his sorry, drunken ass. 

Dave, who had never stood a chance, because he was polite and unfamiliar with Drunk Sam, who had thoroughly cleaned the living room while Sam finished puking in the bathroom, Dave who was gay and not outed and didn’t have the courage to go out and find a guy to date, let alone a guy to makeout with.

But then Drunk Sam had been right there right?  He had been there and he wanted some hot makeout times, didn’t matter with who, didn’t matter why, he just wanted it, desperately.  He needed it.  He needed to feel Dave and to kiss Dave and be near Dave and Dave couldn’t help himself because honestly – and Sam would know this because he had asked – Sam was a pretty decent kisser.  One of the few things his lips did that managed to compensate for their abnormal size.  Sam was, at the very least, an A minus on the makeout scale, and was also a male, and super attractive, so it wasn’t surprising that Dave had responded.  Hell, Sam couldn’t even fault him for it; the blond had pretty much forced himself on the other teen.

Not that Dave would ever agree with that, but it was true.  It was true and now Sam needed to go and make things right.  He needed to talk to Dave and hope, pray that his current best friend was not through with him. 

Seriously, if Sam got dumped because his stupid hormones had acted up, he was going to become celibate. 

It was a small price to pay for friendship.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Dave was not avoiding Sam. 

True, he could probably be doing a little more to help line up their schedules better, put forth some effort on that front, but he had been really busy and Sam had been really busy, so it was understandable that they hadn’t gotten a chance to talk about their…encounter yet.

He hoped - because he could, because he wanted to - that for once in his life booze would work in his favor, that Sam didn’t remember anything from the evening except the Lion King and throwing up.  Those were two solid focal points that Dave was good with him recalling, and then they could laugh and Dave could lecture and it would be fine.  They would have a few days where Sam would put on his best down-trodden puppy face, and Kurt would give them all reproachful looks and Dave would just be stern and then it would pass, they would admit the moral of the story, and then they’d move on.

That was how it was supposed to go.  In a perfect world.

Dave hadn’t even shared one complete, awkward and wavering look with Sam before he realized the blond remembered just about all the wrong parts of that unfortunate evening.

On the bright side - if there was one - Sam had managed to be slightly occupied by having uncomfortable staring contests with Mike, both of them trying to look when the other one wasn’t and failing every time.  It was an impressive enough display that Dave felt horribly pained just watching it, was almost relieved when balance had been restored to the land and the two teenagers were in perfect harmony again, making fun of each other and quoting bad movies, just as they always had. 

He was almost relieved, because then Dave realized that all the awkwardness that remained had accumulated between him and Sam, hanging like an obnoxious wall they were too afraid to address, which was stupid because they were friends and friends shouldn’t have to worry about these kinds of reasonable situations.  The only reason they hadn’t was because Dave had been busy with studying and Booty Camp and glee rehearsal and church work, stuff like that, and Sam was very understanding when it came to keeping his grades up.  AP classes, got you every time right?  Right.

Dave wasn’t avoiding Sam, which was why when the two of them had finally found themselves all on their lonesome, it was perfectly logical to talk about the non-existent elephant in the room.  Expected, even.

That didn’t make Dave any less horribly uneasy inside, even after a solid stream of constant mental reminders, but it should have. 

At least, a little bit. 

Sam decided to start.  Mostly because he was the one who had snuck up on Dave, the other teen too busy locating the last of his missing textbooks that Brittany had “playfully” hidden around the auditorium.  He only had one more to go and then he could have escaped, begging off a study session with Sam to do…something, Dave would think of something, just like he had the last three times, and that hadn’t seemed intentional, right?

“So.”

Dave also didn’t jump; because Sam could be a sneaky son of a gun whenever he really wanted to, despite how much it boggled Dave’s mind.  Apparently the blond and Mike had special training weekends where practiced tailing members of the glee club to “observe their natural functions”. 

At first it had only worked on Finn and Sugar, but clearly their training had paid off if Sam was capable of giving Dave a mild heart attack as he didn’t – truly didn’t- jump at the sudden intrusion of his quiet search.

“So,” Dave echoed, plastering on a smile he hoped was cheerful and not entirely succeeding by the look on Sam’s face.  “What’s up Sam?”

Good, good.  That seemed casual.  Like a normal conversation they would have.  It had to, it had to because if it didn’t and Dave actively started to think about how their usual conversations went he would over-think like the goddamn wind and have a panic attack, most likely ending the evening with some frantic sprinting out of the Auditorium.

Right.  And picturing that of course wouldn’t make Dave worried, because he was good at keeping cool under pressure, and besides that, it would be stupid to start freaking out over a conversation that hadn’t even happened yet.

So Dave should do that.

He should do that a lot.

“Real talk?” Sam’s eyebrows were furrowed in a perfect expression of worry, an almost endearing kind of anxiousness morphed into his features.  He was gnawing on his lip again, not that Dave had looked because anywhere below Sam’s nose was unsafe territory, but the movement was there, in his peripherals, just like it always would have been if Sam was worried.

Dave shrugged, somehow managing to keep collected despite the way Sam was looking at him.  “I figured that’s how we always played it.”

“Of course,” Sam replied, nodding distractedly, eyes averted to the side.  “I guess I meant like, real serious talk.”

The eyes were back on Dave, judging his reaction. 

As they both knew exactly what this was about, Dave didn’t have to play at being serious or force himself to pay attention.  It was already there, and it was already written on his face. 

Sam could see it.

So with that acknowledged, Dave tried to alleviate Sam’s nerves and lighten the mood.  “What took you so long?”

For about half a second Dave was afraid Sam would take it at face value and get offended.  The blond had paused, his worried expression morphing into that adorably confused one he wore so often.  Dave could see when he had caught it, was so relieved when Sam gave a genuine smile, relieved. 

It was enough to break the ice, and from that point on, Dave knew they would be okay. 

At least, for the conversation. 

The ramifications of past actions were always a different thing though, weren’t they? 

“I’m just…” Sam combed a hand through his hair as he tried to find the right words to say.  “I’m sorry man.  I was stupid and drunk-”

“I’m not holding it against you,” Dave had to cut off that business before it got started because he would not let another second go by with Sam feeling guilty.  “These things happen Sam.”

“No they-” the blond cut off with a scoff and there was a look there, like that one he had been wearing when he put himself down in the bathroom.  “They don’t Dave.  They don’t.  There’s a line and I crossed it-”

“You wouldn’t have done it if you were sober,” Dave reminded, hating the way Sam kept glaring at the wall.  “And if I remember correctly, I have some apologizing to do too.”

“Not the way I see it.” Sam pressed his palms against his eyes, looking somewhat pained.  “I threw myself at you.”

“And I was both capable and morally obligated to throw you off.” He didn’t want to point out his sins for fear of the anger it would instigate, no matter how justified, but Dave wouldn’t let Sam pin all the blame on himself.  “I did not.”

“Yeah well, I’m an attractive dude,” Sam exclaimed, throwing an arm out as though presenting himself.  “Attractive and willing and you’re…” he trailed off, looking to Dave hesitantly.  “I guess you don’t get much, right?”

The implication there was obvious, not that Sam had ever been about subtlety, but that didn’t make it easier to digest. 

It hit like a solid blow to Dave’s chest, that Sam would think that in that situation he had considered that as an option and taken advantage because of it, that he was that desperate, that low.

The pathetic part of Dave hoped that Sam only believed that because he had somehow figured out how Dave felt about him, how much he truly cared, but even in his numbed state he could tell that was a long shot at best, if not an impossibility.

By some feat of inhuman composure, Dave managed to keep that storm of emotions under his skin and keep his expression neutral, calm and listening, as Sam thankfully continued, walking away from Dave as he paced around the backstage area. 

“I know that’s- that’s seriously not a cool thing to suggest, but it’s like that because you’re a good guy Dave, you don’t think about that kind of stuff.  You’re mature and good and I thought I had matured because I wasn’t focused on that Dave,” Sam looked at him helplessly, conflicted.  “I wasn’t and it didn’t even bother me.  I had school and glee and friends and I didn’t need that and then all of the sudden-” he waved a hand frantically, the other one pushing his hair flat against his head.  “All of the sudden I did and I used you.”

The blond trailed to a stop, letting his words hang in the air as he turned, slowly, as though waiting his persecution. 

He wasn’t going to get one not now, not ever, and definitely not with Dave struggling against the wave of suggestions rumbling in the back of his mind at what Sam had revealed, the hormones thing, not having, then having it – with Dave – but it was all so pathetically wishful, such a distant dream that Dave knew he couldn’t waste a second thinking about it, because if he did, it would be his downfall. 

Maybe it meant something, maybe it didn’t.  Those were things to think about later.

Sam’s voice was quiet and pained as he continued his confession. “I used you,” he said, eyes locked on Dave’s.  “I used you and I used Mike and it was stupid because you are my friends and I’m not going to ruin that, I’m not going to screw with you just because I feel horny.  You deserve more than that.”

“You were drunk Sam,” Dave snapped, having had about enough of that bullshit.  “You don’t get to put the world’s troubles onto your shoulders just because you made a few bad calls.”

Sam looked like he was going to interrupt him, eyes defiant, so Dave continued, moving to close the distance between them.  “You got drunk and yes, that was a bad decision, you are young and that shit messes with your liver development or something and you could have gotten caught and that would have led to who knows what, but you did it.  You did it and the worst you got was an embarrassing story.  Guess what Sam, most people have those.  Most people make dumb choices when they get drunk.  Does that mean they were vindictively intending to dole out some heavy emotional damage or abuse a relationship or whatever you think you’re capable of doing?” 

Sam had been steadily shrinking back against the wall with each proposal Dave made, flinching at the suggestions, but Dave continued, knowing he had to bring it home.

“Sam, I respect you, you know that.  But I sincerely doubt that you are that crafty or manipulative.”

“I’m trying to take responsibility for my actions here!” Sam shouted, jaw set in a firm frown.  “I don’t get a free pass just because I was drunk!  It was still me!”

Dave took a deep breath, trying to get a handle on his emotions.  He started again, voice calmer.  “I understand that Sam.  I do.  But I also think you’re overestimating the amount of damage you’ve inflicted here.”

“Can I at least apologize?” 

It was a legitimate question, not sarcastic, not taunting; just a general, pained question that Sam honestly didn’t have an answer to.  Even though it was clear what he would have preferred, he still deferred to Dave’s judgment, since he was the supposed wounded party.

“You let me apologize,” Dave said, eyes locked on Sam’s.  “And we’ll call it even.”

Sam frowned.  “There’s nothing to-”

“You don’t make excuses for me,” Dave interrupted, firm, leaving no room for argument.  “I won’t make any for you.  Deal?”

For a second it was clear Sam considered arguing, considered shifting into a battle stance and throwing himself back into the fray on mere principle, but Dave just held his gaze.  Kept locked on those blue eyes until they eventually wavered, knowing a good deal when they saw one, and with that, a tightness he had registered growing in his chest finally managed to dissipate. 

“Deal,” the blond agreed quietly, giving a slow and thoughtful nod. 

“Good,” Dave said, allowing his relief to be seen.  “Look Sam, I knew things weren’t going to be great going in.  Drunk people do dumb things, it’s practically a law of nature.”

“I know that,” Sam said, huffing almost, his arms crossed defensively over his chest.  “Just…I don’t like messing things up Dave.  You’re my best friend, and the idea of screwing with you like that…” It was impressive how much Sam’s eyes could express, some sorrow and regret and pain all wrapped in one.  “It’s messed up man.”

However that made Dave feel, he shoved it away, tucking those emotions into a small corner to deal with later.  Right now, he had other things to focus on.

“And yet,” Dave said, somehow managing to sound calm, unshaken.  “Still not intentional.”

“You’re too good a guy Dave,” Sam said, managing a smile.  “Is it so wrong to want to be a good bro?”

“We’re cool Sam,” Dave said instead of answering the question.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay.” 

Okay.

And that was really all there was to it.  Balance had been restored; things were back to business as usual, and Dave…

Dave got to feel some fragile, small thing inside of him fracture. 

Were he one who leaned towards a flair for the dramatics, he would say it was his heart, but realistically, he knew that wasn’t really the case.

It had been his hope.   

-:-:-:-:-:-

When Dave was dwelling on it later, considering and re-inspecting, reliving every moment of their conversation so he could understand exactly what had happened, he would realize that the resilient and stubborn fighter that had been slugging away inside him this entire time had finally thrown in the towel, based not on the awkward behavior exhibited by Sam post-makeout, but by their “real talk” conversation instead. 

If there was one thing that was blaringly obvious, it was that Sam was invested in their relationship.  It wasn’t exactly new data, but Dave found it comforting to have it confirmed anyway, because he was greedy and sometimes insecure like that, and it was nice to know that you were valued enough to be taken into careful consideration by someone.  You know, it made you feel good.  It implied you were worth the effort, deserving of the extra mile.  That your friendship held in jeopardy with this other person was a serious issue, not to be taken lightly.  It proved that they had a strong friendship, which Dave knew, which Dave had, consequently, always banked on with this particular little operation of his. 

The best relationships, he figured (based on the embarrassingly grand amount of chick flicks his mom had managed to drag Dave and his dad to), began with strong friendships before they shifted into something better.  It was like all you needed was a really solid foundation before you could build up to the exciting, new, invigorating stuff.  The better your base, the more you could support, which meant longer lasting, real, good relationships.  Like the dating kind.  The kind that started with holding hands and ended with wedding vows, stuff like that.

Ultimately, Dave had always meant to become highly valued in Sam’s world.  At first it had been a hope, because Sam had, unknowingly and without any true intention, become very important in Dave’s world.  Of course Dave would want those feelings to be reciprocated somehow, that he wouldn’t end up being deeply invested in a person that could only spare half a thought to his well-being.  This thing they had now, their best-friendship, that was what Dave had always been striving for.  It was what he reveled in. 

This was the precursor to the next step, the final one, the one he really wanted.

So he had sat back and considered and reviewed and thought, thought, thought until he had a proper understanding for the next stage of his plan, just to make sure he wasn’t springing anything too soon, just to be positive he wasn’t reading too much into things.

He wasn’t.

Though by the end of it, he was still trying to hopelessly convince himself he was.

Whether Sam was capable of pursuing a relationship with another guy was ultimately irrelevant, because even if he was, Dave discovered he still would not be considered as a possibility for dating. 

Dave hadn’t thought it would be possible, but Sam simply valued him too much. 

It was clear with how much this bothered Sam that Dave’s presence in his life was not something that could be compromised on; it couldn’t be threatened with things like stupid decisions or dumb fights.  It was too important.  It wasn’t worth the risk.

Which was a problem because relationships were, in essence, one giant risk.

This should be a good thing, it should be a great thing that Sam was more bothered by offending Dave or scaring him off than he was by making out with a dude - that he didn’t even give that part of the evening a tiny mental breakdown in itself – but Dave couldn’t because it had moved past that.  Whether Sam was bothered/aroused/confused by his desire to makeout with Dave wasn’t important, what was important were the ramifications.

Dave was Sam’s friend.  His best friend.  Dave was important.

He was too important to take a risk on, even if it was a possibility.

Dave knew, thought despite the sour sensation welling in his stomach stubbornly clinging to him, that what he was feeling was ridiculous.  This had always been the plan.  All he had to do now was push Sam until the blond saw the risk was worth it, that dating Dave was not only a possibility, but a good possibility, one that could lead to so many great things for the both of them.

But just the thought of Sam’s pained expression was enough to put a halt on that particular train of thought, enough to settle Dave’s wants into a quiet lull instead of their usual roar, knowing that he couldn’t, if he could help it, see that face again.  He couldn’t be the cause of it. 

He didn’t have it in him.

Even if Sam had enjoyed his drunken escapades, on his own, he would never be able to see Dave as anything more than a friend.  That was how he was defined in Sam’s world and as long as he was given that title, that particular definition, Sam would never be able to consider him differently.  It didn’t matter if the blond had “matured” or actively sought out two males to- it didn’t matter, because Dave was still Dave and would always be Dave and as long as there was that constancy Sam’s status quo would be okay.

But Dave’s wouldn’t.

He couldn’t push Sam.  He knew that now.  He couldn’t drag the blond figuratively kicking and screaming until he considered what could be, Dave simply didn’t have the heart for it. 

He didn’t have the hope for it.

It had lasted this long, trudging on valiantly, determinedly, against all odds.  Dave’s persistence had been remarkable, he thought, all things considered.  He had done what was right, had stood up for the people he should have stood up for long ago and become a better person than he could have ever wanted, one that could accept who he was as a person.

Now all he had to do was accept Sam.  Accept life as it was and move on. 

It was the way things were supposed to be. 

He didn’t like it; but it was how they were supposed to be.

Chapter Text

Things were about as good as they could be, everything considered.  Dave had managed to ride the tide of the second-to-last slew of tests his teachers dealt out with more grace than he could have hoped for, straight A’s all around and, with the exception of a few careless Mondays, the majority of his time had passed by slushie-free.  Mostly, this was in thanks to Zizes and a selection of the more crafty tricks of the Glee trade Rachel had bestowed upon him which, while more…elaborate than any of Dave’s previous routes had been, did their designated jobs nicely enough.

Through some miracle, Dave had finally accomplished the seemingly impossible feat that was learning Mike’s choreography.  To this day, he was still unsure exactly how this had come to be, but really, he wasn’t going to question it.  Rory, Puck, and Zizes, whose feet had suffered the most damage from Dave’s lack-of-coordination, certainly weren’t going to question it, and might have (in Dave’s opinion) been a little too celebratory at his achievement.  A round of cheers and fist pumps were one thing, but the elaborate high fives, commemorative picture, and confetti couldn’t help but give Dave the feeling they had been preparing for a long time.  The fact that Mr. Schuester had paused rehearsal to allow for this, with no indication of the slightest bit of surprise, would certainly support Dave’s hunch.

Ultimately, Dave couldn’t fault them.  He had been doling out a lot of damage.  Enough that even Finn was starting to feel good about his moves in comparison which, according to Rachel and Kurt, was not something to feel good about. 

But Dave digressed.

School was good, Glee was good, and his friends…Mike, Sam- they were all fine.  They were all well.  Everything was the way it was; as good as it could be, given the circumstances.  Puck was still sarcastic and gruff, Tina cheerful (and quietly frightening), Mike spazzy, Kurt snarky, Quinn a patient and steady rock in the distance, Brittany…Brittany, Santana and Zizes the best bros anyone could ask for, Blaine comforting and steadfast, and the rest of them…good.  Really, really good.  With Rachel, Dave had almost found- not necessarily a new best friend, but a solid runner up, someone who happily filled in the gaps in Dave’s social life, delighted to discuss literature or share study tips, proofread essays and help Dave work on his dancing, even if he was an almost-lost cause.  In Rachel, Dave finally discovered someone else who was willing to go and watch obscure art-movies with, the ones he had never had the courage to suggest with Azimio and, in return, Rachel had a free audience anytime she asked for it, whenever Finn and Kurt and Blaine had gotten too sick of listening to the same audition song over and over and over again.  It must have been the previous years of constant exposure to Rachel’s voice that made them oblivious to its might, for lack of better word, but Dave was still new and in awe, happy to listen as long as she needed it.  The plethora of videos Rachel had posted online didn’t do justice to the spectacle that was experiencing her sing live, pure volume and power and tone so practiced, so well handled…

Dave couldn’t describe it, didn’t even bother to, and luckily, Rachel never asked.  She was just happy for the company. 

It was a good thing, Dave decided.  True, he had to sacrifice some of the time he had previously spent with Sam in order to keep Rachel’s companionship, but that was probably for the best.  He needed to wean himself off the…idea of Sam, what he had wanted; he needed to stay realistic.  This helped. 

It wasn’t that Dave and Sam they didn’t hang out anymore, because they did.  They still went jogging together and had movie night at Dave’s house, they still hung out after rehearsals and Booty Camp, still joined Mike and Puck for late night McDonalds runs, and Dave still tutored Sam.  They just…didn’t spend every minute together anymore.  Didn’t have those couple of hours per day that were guaranteed to each other’s company anymore.  For the moment, the case of the missing notebook had been temporarily put on hold in favor of survival and grades and, to this point, had yet to be reinstated.  If Sam was pursuing the investigation on his own, again, he was being very subtle about it.  Dave had already asked around to see if the blond had attempted any further investigations, but the responses were all negatory.  In light of Dave’s…epiphany, Sam had seemingly abandoned the case. 

That didn’t bother Dave as much as it should have.  There was a good chance that was because he had forced himself to stop processing Sam-related things, but if Dave wanted to cut the dramatics and be honest with himself, it was because he was just tired.  Very, very tired.

So when Dave had finally managed to catch a quiet evening at home, with no tests immediately in his future, with all songs and dances safely learned and nothing but him and his Xbox to occupy his time, Dave had figured that he could waste the next few hours in a mindless, therapeutic kind of haze of button mashing to escape the demands of the real world.  There was no one who needed him, no chores to be done, and no particularly special thoughts that demanded his attention.  Maybe he would follow his game session up with a nap or something; maybe he would pick up a book.  Maybe he would change his mind and kill his time in front of the tv; who knew, all that mattered was that everything and everyone that was out there stayed safely out of mind, at least for that night.  It didn’t seem like a lot to ask for.

It was a lot to ask for.  Just, not in the way Dave had expected it to be.

If he were being technical, none of the issues of out there had really attacked him. 

This one was…different. 

It was also worse. 

The soft knocking on his door was a sound Dave was long accustomed to, one that caught his attention more from familiarity than actual volume.

The equally quiet “David” that followed confirmed it was his mother, prompting the teen to pause his game and chuck his controller to the side, contemplating what would come next.

She had said ‘David’; not ‘Dave’.  The use of his full-name usually indicated formality, for either punishment or serious son-to-parent talks.  As his grades were doing fine and Dave hadn’t flagrantly broken the rules his parents established - and his mom’s tone was sounding more concerned than anything else - Dave felt safe to assume it was the latter.

Which was just…something he’d worry about later.  Maybe he should wait for what she actually had to say before he wasted any time worrying about it.  That was kind’ve what this night was about anyway.  Maybe she noticed the absence of Sam or something, wanted to know what was up.

There was no need to panic.

The door swung open just as Dave pulled his attention to it, face as blank/semi-questioning as he could make it as he confirmed that the particular expression on his mother’s face was worried. 

Don’t panic.

“Yeah mom?”

“I’d like to talk to you.” She was relaxed, for the most part, as calm and composed as she always was, but her hands gave away a strong tension, knuckles white against the doorframe.  “Downstairs?”

“Sure mom,” Dave replied, the only logical response he could think of.  It earned him a slight smile, not as natural as it should have been, and she waved him onwards, indicating for him to follow. 

They ended up in the living room, side-by-side on the couch.  If their previous interaction hadn’t given Dave a clue, the familiar seating would have.  This was practically Serious Talk 101 for his parents, like the couch was a neutral zone, a place of safety, of learning.  Dave’s dad had been the one who had decided on it, after the first “you and your new hormones” talk that neither one of them had been too particularly pleased to be involved in, and it had been tradition ever since.

It was with that thought that Dave felt the ache of his father’s absence all that stronger, wondering exactly how much longer his company could keep him on out-of-town work.  Dave understood, he did, that the factory his dad was working with seriously needed his skills but…it would be nice to have his dad back.  Even if Dave couldn’t tell him everything, his dad was like an emotional rock for him, a quiet foundation to steady himself against in the more hectic times.  They didn’t really need to talk, to be honest.  His dad knew him, knew Dave well enough to call him out on his lies, to figure out when he was hurting, to bring him back onto the straight and narrow.

His mom usually left the more serious talks up to his dad when the time called for them, except when she provided unsolicited advice on how teenage girls worked.  That had been…an unpleasant thirty minutes, but it had kind’ve bonded them, so Dave was okay with it.

He hoped they were going to talk about girls again.  Dave would be okay with that.  Really.

“So,” his mom began, hands clapping against her knees as she swiveled to face Dave, forced smile on her face.  “I suppose I should start with a little back story.”

“That usually helps,” Dave ascended, giving a small shrug.

The tightness spread to the corners of her eyes, the faint crow’s feet crinkling unpleasantly.  “A couple of your friends came over a few weeks ago, searching for one of Sam’s notebooks-”

“What friends?” Despite knowing better, Dave interrupted, mind occupied with determining who for about two seconds before cowing under the stern look of his mother, clearly indicating she had raised him better than that. 

“Sorry,” Dave mumbled, raising his shoulders, sheepish.

He wasn’t quite though, because that seemed to be enough to shake some of the tension off his mom.  Her smile became a little more sincere, a little more wistful, and for a second, everything was okay.

But then the moment ended and the story had to continue, and whatever it was that was making his mom worried came back with wild vengeance, falling across her shoulders like a rigid drape. 

“Finn, I believe,” his mom said, tapping a finger against her bottom lip, thoughtful.  “And another well-dressed boy I didn’t recognize.  They were working on some project with Sam and were looking for a notebook he’d lost.  You were off tutoring at the time, so I let them into your room to look for it.  Normally, it’s not something I would do, but they both seemed very nice and Sam is here almost all the time.” The real smile came back for a second, playful and warm, if a little small.  “It feels like I’ve almost gained another son.”

“Yeah well,” Dave shrugged, head ducked off to the side as he felt the heat rising to his face.  “Sam’s a cool guy.”

“And a good friend,” his mom added with a knowing nod.  “I can see that much.”

“Yeah, he…” Is the best-I like him a lot- miss him- we’re good frie- “You said they were looking for something?”

Finn and someone else, someone his mom didn’t know, so they were probably from Glee.  Well-dressed meant it had to be Kurt or Blaine, at the least, because none of the other guys would ever come close to meeting his mother’s dressy-ness standards, not by a long shot.

Which left Dave with the tiny mystery of why Finn and Kurt/Blaine were going through his room.  It sure as hell wasn’t for a notebook, Dave knew that much.  There was no way it would ever be that simple.

“A notebook,” his mom repeated, bring Dave back to the present.  “They were quiet and polite and, as expected, having trouble looking through your room…”

Mom,” Dave sighed.  “You can see it’s clean.  There’s nothing on the floor, everything has a place-”

“It’s just not easy to find things,” his mom replied, joking smile on her lips.  “When unfamiliar with your organizational system, that’s all I meant.”

“Oh,” Dave replied, hands uncurling from the fists they had unconsciously curled into.  It was an old ‘fight’, if it could be called that. 

He would prefer this to be a conversation about his cleanliness, but Dave had a feeling that would be far too hopeful for him.

“And as it so happened,” his mother began, smacking her knee lightly, as though she remembered something.  “I had been trying out a few new cookie recipes and I figured, since they were so polite and quiet, and probably not finding much luck in your room-”

Mom,” Dave cut in, slight warning in his voice.

“Because of unfamiliarity,” she continued blithely, eyes laughing.  “I would bring them a snack.  You know, get some fresh input.”

“Lab rats, you mean,” Dave replied, able to joke and mean it and this time his mother finally laughed, sharing a wink with Dave. 

Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to,” she said brightly.  “You know they would have enjoyed it.”

“Yeah,” Dave admitted begrudgingly, more from having to share any of his mother’s treats with blatant home-invaders than from anything else.  “I do.”

Wait a second…

‘Would have’?” Dave echoed, eyebrows furrowed, confused.  What, had Finn and Kurt/Blaine declared simultaneous glutton-intolerance or something?  Joint diets?  They didn’t want to ruin their dinners?

The smile that had graced his mother’s features, once warm and radiant, immediately fell, and with it, the mood of the room.  It rendered Dave into a living pile of anxiety and concern, knowing they were about to hit the root of the issue.  Whatever it was.

Probably not something good.

“Actually,” his mom let out a nervous laugh, trying to salvage the situation, and Dave couldn’t tell if she realized the effort was useless.  “I never got to give them any.”

“Did they leave?” Dave offered.

“Eventually,” his mom allowed with a slight tilt of her head, delicate, thoughtful.  “But that wasn’t…” she shook her head, eyes closed, and breathed in deep, gathering herself.  “I was about to knock on the door, actually.” When she opened her eyes they were solemn, though still, somehow, trying to be kind.  Trying to understand.  “But then I heard them talking and…”

She shrugged, looking off to the side, and Dave made no move to mention the impoliteness of eavesdropping, of pushing her to get to the point, because his stomach had fallen into hopeless knots, nothing good, there wasn’t anything good-

Her eyes found his, and there was so much sorrow in them Dave almost wanted to run away, because he knew, even if she didn’t say it, whatever the hell Finn and Kurt/Blaine had been talking about…

He knew what it was. 

“They were talking about you Dave,” she continued quietly, hands clasped tightly together, just about her knees, her legs crossed daintily at the ankles, as a gentlewoman would.  “Normally…what would teenage gossip matter right?  It was just boys being boys but…” her gaze was critical, judging, and too well-practiced to have been for the first time.  “But then I thought about it, what they had said,” she elaborated.  “And I thought, ‘I should talk to David’.”

“And here we are.” The joke fell flat, Dave unable to muster the energy to even give a half-hearted effort under the weight of dread.

His mother, ever generous, gave him a small laugh anyway.  From pity.  “Yes, indeed we are.”

“So what…?” Dave trailed off with a dry swallow, knowing whatever attempts at composure he had managed were meager at best.  “What were they…?”

The things they didn’t say were a conversation in their own right, their hesitations, the reality of what they both knew staring them in the face.  Dave wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that the words hadn’t been spoken aloud yet, only knew that it wasn’t going to end with encouragement or comfort.

There was something solemn about the way she looked at him, fingers minutely quivering against the top of her knees.  “They said…” she began, head tilting to the side as she relived the moment, taking the time to remember it correctly.  “They mentioned something about…you being gay?”

And that statement sufficiently answered Dave’s earlier query.  It was much worse out loud; at least in their silence they could still pretend everything was okay, even if they were unfairly away it wasn’t-

“So I was wondering,” his mother continued, resolute pose almost negated by her wavering tone.  “If there was any truth to this.  And to Sam, of course,” she added, almost as a second thought.  “Being your…crush?”

“There-” And if the world wanted to swallow him whole, if there was ever a moment for the universe to intervene, now would be it, because talking shouldn’t be this hard.  Dave’s throat was struggling to cooperate, almost shutting down at the idea of talking about- but he had to, he had to, it was his mom.

Dave swallowed; clearing his throat with a few nervous coughs and gave a shaky, but definite nod.  “Yeah,” he said finally. 

“Yes,” his mother corrected automatically, clinging to instigating proper grammar as though it would be her life raft in this place.

“Yes,” Dave echoed, obediently.  He swallowed again.  “There is some…It’s true.  There’s truth to that.”

It was so much easier to keep his eyes focused on the far wall, only take in his mother’s quiet hiccups for what they were, and not the results of tears that had started to roll down his mother’s face, her tiny gasps muffled against the heel of her palm, as dainty as she always was.

They waited a few moments for her to calm herself, Dave trying to convince his mind to surrender into numbness, hating the old feelings of disappointment and shame that were creeping back into the back corners of his mind, threatening total take-over, the hatred, the anger, so familiar and strong-

“And you…” his mother began with a small gasp, tissue dabbing softly against her cheeks, eyelids blinking rapidly to rid themselves of the remaining tears.  “And you’re sure about this?”

“Mom I-” Dave looked away, feeling the heat well behind his eyes.  “Mom I’m so-

“Oh baby.” Her arms gently worked around his shoulders, and suddenly Dave was being pulled against his mom’s side, lips pressing against the top of his head, reaffirming, kind.  “Shh, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Dave continued, aware of how disapproving Kurt and Blaine and Santana would be, it wasn’t his fault, but- “I’m so sorry mom, I thought about it-”

“I know baby.  I know you would have thought about it for a long time.  You would have made sure,” his mom said, a sorrowful lilt in her tone, bittersweet.  “You wouldn’t…admit this lightly.”

“I’m sorry mom,” Dave repeated, because she was crying and he was crying and she was sort of one of the most important people in his life and he couldn’t just break her like this.  “I tried to- I tried not to-”

He had.  So much.  Kurt would have hated every word of this because it wasn’t something you controlled and Dave agreed, he always had, but he needed his mom to know, he needed her and him to be okay now before they could ever make it past…before they could make it to other concepts.

“I know Dave,” his mom whispered against the top of his head, one hand rubbing gently at the side of his face.  “You’re my son; I know you would have tried so hard.” Amongst the sadness there was a sliver of pride.  “That’s why you started acting up last year, wasn’t it?  When that gay kid’s father accused you of…”

They both shuddered; he wasn’t sure who was first but it was irrelevant, ultimately, and his mom moved on.

“That’s why you were picking on that kid.” Her voice was low and sad when she admitted it, the first time the words had been spoken aloud.  They had opted to ignore it once his dad had set him straight- ish- and once Dave got his act together in school it didn’t matter so much anyway…

Something that sounded like a sob escaped Dave’s throat, the feelings of shame overwhelming and cruel, but justified, he had to remind himself of that, completely justified.  He grasped for what to say next, what would explain, where they could possibly go from here.

There was nothing he could say to justify, but he tried anyway. “I was just so angry mom, I kept trying to- but I couldn’t-

“I know,” his mom repeated, solemn.

“I-” Dave shuddered and his mom made inarticulate cooing sounds, hugging him tight, and another sob rocked through him.  “I apologized,” he said at last.  “I made peace with Kurt, admitted to…I owned up to it.”

There was something insanely relieving about the way his mother nodded against the top of his head, agreeing.  “That was the right thing to do Dave.  You did the right thing.”

“I shouldn’t have-”

“No,” his mom concurred.  “You shouldn’t have, but you were…” her fingers trembled, tight against his biceps, and she sharply inhaled.  “You were all alone Dave, and that doesn’t excuse it, it doesn’t, but you…”

She turned his head towards her, eyes locking for the first time since he had more or less come out, and amongst the tears, there was a slight smile on her face.  “But you did it and you apologized and you…calmed down, because you’re my Davey-boy.”

“Mom-” Dave gasped, something about the familiar pet-name striking at his core, but his mother only smiled.

“It’s okay Dave,” she said.  “It’s not your fault.”

“I just-”

“The Devil is…a powerful and loathsome thing,” she continued, talking over him.  “It’s not your fault that…” she took a breath, steadying herself.  “It’s not your fault,” she repeated.  “You did your very best and now together, we are going to move past it, okay?  If you just stick with me-”

“Mom, it’s not-” Dave cut off with a shudder, trying to pull back all the pieces of himself that seemed to have scattered to the wind.  He was in delicate territory now and he wasn’t composed enough to tread lightly, but he had to try.  “It’s not that, it’s-”

Shh,” his mom hushed him, still understanding, still patient.  “I know baby, they say it’s genetic.  That you were born this way-”

“I was,” and for the life of him Dave wished he sounded less sorrowful when he gasped it out, less regretful, anything to feel less like he was letting down all of his new friends who were decent down. 

“I know Davey,” his mom repeated.  Despite the quavers in her voice, the obvious heartache, there was no sign of condescension.  She wasn’t patronizing him; she wasn’t waiting for his tears to die down before she moved onto a lecture-

She believed him.

She agreed with him.

“You were born with way Davey,” she continued, so firmly Dave had to force himself to keep withdrawn, to pull back his relief and his joy so he could hear what she had to say, so he could return the favor she had given him.  “I know that.  I understand that.”  One of her hands had made it into his hair and was petting small, comforting circles, something that would have been embarrassing from anybody else but from mom was- it was home.  She was taking care of him.

Oh Davey,” she breathed, beginning to rock them back and forth slightly, just as she’d done when Dave had come to her as a child, frightened from some nightmare.  “It’s not your fault Dave.  It isn’t.  God just…he gave you a special trial, but I know you David.  I know you’re strong enough-” she cut off the rocking with a sharp exhale and pulled him closer, arms tight against his back, burrowing him against her shoulder.  “I know you’re strong enough to pull through this.  And you and I, we’re going to work together to fix-” 

She stopped to gather her thoughts and never had Dave been more grateful, he wasn’t sure if he could manage to hear what he had known was coming all along, but he had hoped-

“We’ll overcome this together Dave,” his mother vowed.  “I know it’s not your choice to be this way, but we’ll…we’ll think of something.”

“Like what, mom?”

His mother went rigid at the question and allowed it to hang in the air, weighing above them, maybe hoping Dave would forget about it- that they could ignore it, if Dave didn’t press onward.

But seeing as this was his life he was dealing with here, his future, Dave sort of had to.

He knew it was a provocation, he knew it was probably uncalled for.  But he had to make a stand.

“If it’s not a choice,” he continued, slowing disentangling himself from her embrace, pulling himself away so he could look at her properly, eyes red and aching.  “Then what are we supposed to do?”

To “fix” him?

Okay, he wasn’t anywhere near together enough to pursue that thought and it almost broke him, what little resolve he had, but thankfully his mother was there, cheeks wet, eyes dripping, and enough of a distraction that Dave could shove that hurt into a dark corner of his mind to pick at another day.

“Well,” his mother began, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand as she attempted to calm herself, obviously putting something thought into how she would respond.  “There’s prayer, of course-”

“It won’t work.”

Dave wasn’t sure if he had intended it as a challenge or as an admittance of absolute futility- it had never worked for him before so he wasn’t sure why it would work now- but his mother took it as a little of both.  Her eyes flashed when she glanced up at him, mildly reproachful. 

“David Mathew Karofsky,” his mother began, tone indicating that she didn’t care what kind of life-changing discussions that were going on, his interruption was not acceptable.  “We do not pray for direct corrections, we pray to find peace.”

“And you think if I find enough peace I’ll stop liking guys?” 

He shouldn’t…this wasn’t how Dave should approach this, not with his mom, but he couldn’t help but feel angry.  Feel a little bit betrayed at the way she flinched when he said he was attracted to guys, even though she was being civil, she wasn’t yelling, and that should count for something. 

“Do you think I didn’t try that?” he continued. “That I didn’t try to make it go away?”

With every new secret shared Dave couldn’t help but feel his integrity, his respect and decency begin to crumble a bit, like he was fraud of the person he presented himself to be.  What he aspired for.  But it was all true and the shame, from his mother, from himself, from the others if they knew, was overpowering to the point of tears, which was pitiful, which wasn’t helping him…

But it was really all he had.

His mother must have taken them for a sign of something else because she wasn’t afraid to approach him- somewhere in the middle of Dave’s fit he must have stood up- and she reached for his hands, sandwiching them between her own as she tried to comfort him. 

“I know Dave,” she said, eyes shining.  “But maybe if we try together, if we work together-”

“Mom I-” his throat caught, but Dave knew what needed to be said, knew even if he didn’t want to see his mother’s face afterwards.  “Mom, I’m okay with being gay.”

Something behind her expression froze, like her mind had suddenly stuttered to a halt, but she was still present, still listening, so Dave continued.  “It took me a long time,” he said, voice quiet but strong, and he kept his eyes locked on hers so she would know- “And some help from my friends, but I’m okay with it.  I accept it and I…”

He trailed off, unsure of how to continue, but he struggled for the words anyway, knowing this moment was vital.  “I’m happy with it.  With being gay.  It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t change me but I…I accepted it.  And I’m moving on, to better things.”

Things like getting boyfriends and stuff like that, but there was no need for details when his mother was so fragile, when they were on the tipping point and could fall either way…

Best case scenario, his mother would experience overwhelming feelings of pride and respect, love and affection coursing through her at the sight of this person, her son, growing into a true man, who weighed and valued and thought and eventually accepted who and what he was, and his values in life.  Love would outweigh beliefs, or at least bend them enough so that he was acceptable, and they would embrace in a tight, if tear-laden, hug.

Best Dave could hope for was disappointment but begrudging respect, and enough room that his mom would give Dave the space he needed but never entirely approve of him.  She would love him, but couldn’t stand what he was doing, leaving them in an awkward limbo until she eventually grew used to the idea of having a homosexual son.

The worst case scenario Dave didn’t bother contemplating, maybe because if he didn’t think it he could spare himself from its misery and surely, surely it would never come to that point.

Reality spared him the need to delve into the cruelties of potential possibilities.

When Dave worked up the courage to look his mother in the eye, he knew his mind could have dealt no greater damage for the worst case scenario.

The disappointment was expected, but the degree of it was enough to startle whatever tears Dave had left to flow, joining their brethren as he watched his mom, the woman who raised him, who he loved, look upon him with an expression of such astounding shame and disapproval that it made Dave want to give whatever plans she had for him as much energy and attention as she desired.

That he would not even try, with her, like she asked, like he should have and it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t be like this, it shouldn’t have come to this but she would stand firm, because she was his mother, and she loved him, and she had to-

She had to fight to mold Dave to save him because she loved him, fix him because she loved him, and not just…accept him.

Embrace who he was, because she loved him.

She drew up to her full height- it wasn’t much, compared to Dave- but her posture still emanated might and strength, demanded respect.  Her hands withdrew from his and Dave knew better than to grab after them, even if he wanted to.  They came to a rest at her sides, still and rigid, just like the rest of her body.

“So you…” she began, then cleared her throat, composing herself.  “You’re not even going to try?”

Dave couldn’t say no, even if that was the truth and the temptation to say yes was overpowering, but he couldn’t lie, Dave couldn’t do that anymore, and there were no right answers.  No outcomes that would make them both happy.  It was two different mindsets, and neither one of them could coexist without either total reformation or compromise in a situation where compromises were unacceptable and change was unlikely.  Completely impossible, in his case. 

Perhaps in hers as well.

Mom,” Dave gasped, because that was all he could manage, that was all he could think of to start a new argument, but somehow his mom caught up on all the things he hadn’t said.

On another day he would have laughed at the idea of keeping anything from her at all; she was his mother and…aside from this, she could see through easily.  She had raised him.

“No Dave,” his mother interrupted, voice tight.  “No excuses, if you’re not even going to…”

She couldn’t even finish the thought, she was so disappointed, so aggravated with Dave’s lack of faith that she left the words to hang in the air, knowing Dave would figure it out.

“If you’re not…” she tried again, then gave a quick shake of her head, settling on a new topic.  “Then I…I need you to go.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in, for Dave to appropriately process what he had heard and form them into a semblance of comprehension that his brain could manage.  Several seconds later, with his mother staring at him, arms folding around herself in a comfortless hug, Dave would have nothing to do but gape, not understanding, not connecting the dots.

“If you won’t even try,” his mother continued, setting her resolve.  “Then I need you…you can’t stay here.”

Dave’s furrowed his eyebrows, trying to confirm what couldn’t be happening, what she couldn’t really mean.  “Mom, what-?”

“Not in this house,” his mother continued, and later Dave would think of the damage he had caused forcing her to explain, of the wounds he inflicted because this was tough love, or it wasn’t, that could be wishful thinking-

“You can’t stay here.”  Her eyes were shining and her fists were curled into rigid, quivering things, but she meant what she said, and wasn’t going to back down.  “I’ll give you thirty minutes,” she said.  “You can either pack a bag and leave or you can do the right thing and stay with me, stay and try to…” her eyes clenched shut before another shuddered breath hit her, but she managed the strength to finish what she started.  “Try to fix this, to make it as good as we can.”

She was imploring, Dave finally realized. 

She knew it wouldn’t be good for him, or easy, she knew he wouldn’t be happy, but she was desperately reaching out to him anyway, because she needed…

She needed him “fixed”, because she loved him.

Just…not enough.

It was a power play, to scare him, maybe, or maybe she actually meant it, that she couldn’t stand the thought of him…but ultimately it didn’t matter.

She laid down an ultimatum, and now Dave had to stick to it.

“I’ll go…pack my bag.”

Dave heard himself say the words, mind numb beyond the simple action of moving out of the room, up the stairs, numbed enough that he didn’t hear the sobs breaking out behind him, didn’t have to picture his mother sagging back down against the couch, broken.

His body moved on auto-pilot, and somewhere between packing up his school things and organizing his toiletries he prayed (one last time, just…for good measure) that his mother didn’t perceive this as petty rebellion, that Dave was legitimately putting his money where his mouth was.  How much he had thought this out, was committed to and accepted himself and his life to be.

Even if that meant...that maybe his mom wouldn’t be in it.

Hell, he shouldn’t have thought that.

Dave didn’t really come back to reality until his mother broke him from his daze.  With a shake he realized he was back down the stairs, duffle bag and backpack secured safely on his shoulders, one hand poised above an end table, where he had left his car keys earlier.

“Dave?” his mother repeated, repeated, which must have been what snapped him out of his fog.  When he had looked back at her there was no anger, just resignation, and an immense amount of control.  “David, did you hear me?”

“Sorry I…” Dave gestured vaguely to his ear, as if to say ‘teenagers, what can you do?’ and for a second, it almost felt like every other lame joke he had fed his mother, and that everything was normal.

Except…

She didn’t smile.  She stared at him with those blank, reddened eyes and didn’t muster the energy to laugh at her son’s pitiful joke.

“I said, leave your keys,” she explained, still patient, still prim and perfect and pristine sitting on that couch in that dainty little composed way she did even though there were tears down her face and she was just as freakin’ broken as Dave was.

“You won’t need them.”

Because his car wasn’t technically his- except it was, it had been a gift and- it wasn’t like Dave would need to get into the house anymore because he was being kicked out- he was being kicked out-

“Okay,” Dave replied, because every other word in Dave’s vocabulary would have been just as similarly useless.

“Keep your phone though,” his mother continued, because maybe he would change his mind, or she would change hers, or maybe it was the only link they would have to one another and that meant something.

“Okay,” Dave repeated, even though he was so very far from okay.

He left and he shut the door behind him, blocking out whatever sounds that resonated over his shoulder, the echoes of despair, and shoved one foot in front of the other. 

Dave made it down the driveway and then he made it down the street, down another street, through the haze of mismatched sidewalks until it was forty five minutes later and he hit a small park.  It was a familiar place, one he and his family had frequented all throughout his childhood, and because of this, Dave automatically created a firm set of rules.  One being that he couldn’t humor the unbidden memories the park inspired of picnics past, of impromptu football games against his cousins while his mom and aunt watched on with amused faces.  He couldn’t surrender himself to the years of Fourth of July carnivals and Friday’s in the park, featuring live jazz and fried chicken, shared over a checkered blanket.  He couldn’t to think about the way his dad would laugh, unrestrained and full of mirth, one arm wrapped around Dave’s mother while the other one held onto his son’s hand, the young child perched upon his shoulders so they could all get a good view of the army reenactment or the candlelight vigil or the tee-ball games Dave was too young to participate in.

The teen pushed it all away because he couldn’t handle being swallowed by it, couldn’t abandon himself to a pain that was still so new, even if it was tempting.  He needed to plan his next move, first.

There would be time for mourning later.

The bench Dave found wasn’t the most inviting, but it was solid enough and not in horrible disrepair so Dave decided to take a seat, setting his bag down beside him before he stared off into the sky, noting by the position of the sun that darkness would soon be upon him.

Dave needed to make a call. 

That was step one, he knew.  He had a whole set of new friends that were the real deal, true quality people, and if Dave wanted to escape homelessness he needed to make a call to one of them.  It was undeniable, it was common sense, it was the most practical solution to rectifying his immediate needs toward survival while similarly addressing his emotional wounds.  Obviously, he had to make a call.

The very problem was, despite his wealth of options…

Dave just wasn’t sure who he should make the call to.

Because it sure as hell wasn’t Sam.

Chapter Text

“Option one?” Rachel said, pressing the blush-colored sundress up against her chest. “Or option two?”

She switched out the first pink dress with one that was almost identical, hanger firm in her grasp as she stared Dave down with a woefully imploring expression, indicating he would not escape her bedroom without giving his opinion.

There was a good chance that informing her that he was about as fashion forward now as he had been before he had come out of the closet, which was not at all, but Rachel seemed firm in the belief that Dave had somehow discovered a deep-seeded aptitude towards wardrobe-coordination the moment he realized his sexuality. Which was, in itself, undeniable grounds for Dave to be offended (he was not a stereotype, thank you Rachel), but keeping in mind the memory of meeting Rachel’s dads (and Kurt and Blaine) Dave realized that he was sort of an exception to the rule in Rachel’s collection of friends. He didn’t dwell on it much, after he figured that out, because it implied a rareness that wouldn’t be replicated in the small circle of people he knew and that only added to the morose feelings of abandonment and dejection Dave had to manhandle into the less-attended corners of his mind. Somewhere where he could pretend he was doing a good job of ignoring them.

“See, I feel like option one is more flirty and casual, still cute but has this hint of whimsy.” Rachel brought said option back in front of her, modeling it in the mirror as she studied its every angle. “Its fun, you know?”

When the doe-eyes turned back towards him Dave nodded enthusiastically, having learned earlier that it was easiest to agree.

“And then we have option two,” Rachel continued, when she decided his input had been satisfactory. She held the other pink dress in front of her with a slight frown, the first option hanging beside it for immediate comparison. “Which is more formal, but classy, better material. It’s elegant and cute but do you think it’s too sophisticated? I don’t want Finn to feel awkward.”

She turned back towards him, offering the pale interchangeable dresses for his inspection. “Well?”

If Dave’s experience with Azimo was anything to go by, along with his own personal attempts at dating girls (when that had been a thing he tried to do), Dave was pretty sure he knew how Finn would feel about it.

Or, specifically, how the quarterback would not feel about it. After witnessing the devotion on the Finn’s face, Dave was pretty sure Rachel could go to school wearing a burlap sack and her boyfriend would think she was gorgeous. Partially, because Rachel, in her most natural state, was gorgeous, and partly because he was sort of head-over-heels with the force of nature that was Rachel Berry. Her personality, her passion. And yes, dressing nice was a bonus, but when faced with the options of two matching pink dresses, Finn would not catch the subtleties. He wouldn’t think “flirty” or “sophisticated”, he would think “Wow, Rachel’s pretty and I’m so lucky I get to date her.”

That was it. Once you got ‘em hooked, boys were pretty easy to keep satisfied.

But seeing as this explanation had been so poorly-received when Dave tried it earlier, he went ahead and picked the dress he knew Rachel was leaning towards. Probably had something to with the fact she kept shoving it in his face and going on about the “button detail” that ran down the back of it.

“Definitely option two,” Dave said with a nod, using his most confident tone. “You’ll be a knockout.”

“Really?”

It shouldn’t take something so little to make Rachel’s face light up the way it did, all giddiness and yearning, like she wasn’t aware of how pretty she actually was.

Then again, Dave realized on a depressing note, that could actually be the case. Even the strongest, most stubborn minds could start to falter after a certain amount of bullying.

“Yeah,” Dave replied, willing to keep that smile around for as long as it rightfully should be. “No question about it.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Which was the only warning Dave got before a pair of arms were thrown around his next, one hand still clutching the winning dress while the other had been abandoned to the floor, confirmed in its defeat. “You’re the best Dave.”

She was overplaying it a little bit, this time for his own benefit, but Dave didn’t call her out on it. Together they were their own little microcosm of emotional needs and social longing, so if from time-to-time they ever overcommitted, it was entirely well-intended.

Rachel was trying to fill a void; Dave was just trying to be needed. To be useful.

It worked, though it shouldn’t.

“Okay,” Rachel began, whisking the losing dress back into the depths of her closet. “Now next we have…”

Don’t say shoes, don’t say shoes, don’t say-

“-to pick shoes,” Rachel finished, fishing an assortment of shoeboxes from her wardrobe in what appeared to be random selection. “You know what they say-”

“I probably don’t.”

“-shoes make the woman.”

“That’s a horrible phrase,” Dave noted because, well, it was, but this only earned him a small shrug from Rachel.

“I never said it was accurate,” she explained. “I just wanted to reinforce the importance of picking the proper footwear.”

“They all look the saaaame,” Dave groaned with a tired sigh, rubbing a hand across his face in exasperation as Rachel revealed her candidates. “I promise you, Finn will not be looking at your feet.”

“It’s not about what Finn thinks.”

“But the dress-

“Finn would notice the dress,” Rachel insisted, eyes wide and earnest as she helpfully educated Dave. “But the shoes are entirely for me. And I would like to feel like, as you said, a knockout, so I’ve got to pick the right shoes.”

Further arguments would be pointless, so Dave didn’t try anything else, even on principle. Instead he collapsed onto the pink comforter that covered Rachel’s bed with a defeated sigh, knowing escape would be futile.

“It’s hard to be a girl,” Dave didn’t-quite-but-actually-did whine, arm draped across his face in a woefully tragic expression that would make Rachel proud.

She didn’t even deign it with a response, instead, noting approvingly, “Yes, yes it is.”

The “So glad for you to have noticed” went unsaid, but so did the “I know it’s hard for you too”, so Dave chalked it up to them being even and wisely decided not to press any further.

He was here after all; he might as well give Rachel some feedback.

It was the least he could do.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Dave had sat on his damn bench, staring blankly at the phone resting in his palm for entirely too long, even though it felt like nothing. He needed- he wanted time; time to just feel, okay? To realize that everything that had just happened - a sampling of his worst nightmare plucked from his dreamscape and delivered into the land of the living - that had happened, he had been there and it was just him now, with the greatest of his necessities shoved away into a duffle bag, his entire life up to this point condensed into two cubic feet of battered material resting by his feet.

It wasn’t that Dave couldn’t come to terms with it, he guessed, it was just- he wanted it to stop hurting. For his emotions to catch up to the rest of him so the overwhelming urge to fall into a million irreparable fractures would be that much less tempting.

He wouldn’t go back. That ideal, in itself, was enough of rock that Dave knew he was committed to, that he couldn’t turn away from.  

It was just so very hard to move forward. Not when the definite structure of his life, the concrete guarantee of it had been so roughly pulled from right underneath his feet. It didn’t seem fair that life expected him just to be up and running and okay, okay enough to plan, when all the best that he could hope was to be a pathetic pile of crushed limbs and feelings. It was all he had, at that point.

But it was not all he could be, and if he had any certainty in his commitment to his new life, he was going to have to get off his ass and actually do something.

The bench, as nice as it was, could not house him forever. He needed a plan, a course of action.

The tears could wait for later.

Quietly, Dave reviewed what he knew, applying his hypotheticals as best he could in order to figure out his best option.

The good news was yes, Dave had a good new set of friends. These were people he could depend on, people who would understand his situation and wouldn’t hesitate to help him. Quality people.

Unfortunately when it came down to it, they, ultimately, were not the people-of-interest in Dave’s plight. The people he needed to be concerned about, the people who would ultimately decide his fate, were their parents.

He didn’t like it, but it was the utter truth of it all.

See, there was a certain degree of sympathy and open generosity that was necessary when it came to taking in a kid that had been kicked out of his home. The ability to be open to this idea resulted from seeing how well said kid interacted with your kid, that they were good material, an optimistic prospect for turning into a decent human being. Bottom line, you cared about this kid, because this kid was your kid’s best friend, or whatnot.

But Dave hadn’t known any of the glee kids long enough to be completely in their best graces, let alone their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Hummel, definitely; Dave had met with them on a regular basis. Of course, that was after he had survived that slightly awkward sit down featuring Mr. Hummel and Kurt where the fashionista had proclaimed Dave reformed, and Dave had attempted to express his sincere apologies.

Dave had managed enough approval from Mr. Hummel that he was cleared to hang out with Sam and Kurt with no worries, but anything more than that and Dave could tell he was on thin ice. The Hummels, he was sure, would understand his struggles the most, would probably be more than welcoming if Dave explained the situation to them, but…

He had done his damage. Being tolerated was more than Dave could have ever hoped for; he wasn’t going to push for more.

He didn’t deserve it, frankly.

A part of him, the sore part that stubbornly existed despite the newest development in Dave’s life, the one that yearned for Sam, was slightly relieved when Dave had come to this conclusion. It was difficult to keep your distance when you were rooming with the object of- with the person you may or may not have- it would have been hard okay, for Dave to let go, and he wanted to as much as he didn’t want to, if only to make things better for both he and Sam in the long run.

It was for the best.

So, Kurt and the Hummels were out.

Aside from them, Dave wasn’t sure who to call.

Mike, whose parents were okay with him entering a polygamous relationship, would probably understand where Dave was coming from. They might even take him in; they certainly had the funds to. They were a sound option, but there was something about how horribly bare Dave would become when explaining, if they pressed for the full story, what had happened to these people he didn’t really know, had only seen in brief glances, that shook Dave. It was humiliating when it shouldn’t be, or at the very least, when it was deserved, because Dave had made his own damn bed to lie in, but the feelings remained.

Dave didn’t know Tina’s parents, he knew Puck’s mom enough that her sanctuary, while reliable, was probably not his best option.

He wasn’t sure who that left him with. Yeah, Brittany was gay (or bi or whatever Brittany was), but her parents already had their hands full with her and Rory (Rory, who didn’t even know about Dave’s sexual preference, let alone would understand-). There was Santana, who Dave had heard (just maybe having eavesdropped from Quinn) that her family was very supportive of her, but Dave didn’t know them. They would be a good call, Dave bet, even if living with Santana might be uncomfortably weird, but at least it would be safe, and a probable guarantee…

The only other person Dave could think to call was Rachel, and really, how far could he fall, to beg the help of someone whose life he had made so awful? He had already pretty much wrangled her into being his new best friend, now he was going to cry to her for shelter too?

How much worse could he get?

Dave tried to dismiss it, pulling out his phone and scrolling through his contacts until he reached Santana’s number, but-

Rachel’s name sat there, idly beneath his thumb, proclaiming no more than the perfect innocence of digitized lettering.

Dave shouldn’t call Rachel.

But if he did call Rachel, he should probably just- think about her situation, you know, a little better.

Rachel was the only child of two well-off gentlemen who would definitely (understatement) sympathize with what Dave was going through. They had enough room in their house to devote an entire basement to entertaining guests, what was one couch, right? Dave didn’t need that much space and he could clean with the best of them. Not a lot of people bothered the Berrys unless they actively sought them out (and really, based on what Rachel had revealed to Dave, her dads didn’t bother with Lima folk that often). They were isolated, both literally and figuratively, and Rachel had probably talked Dave up enough that her dads at least knew who he was, right?

It could be worth a try, was all he was thinking.

Just, something to consider.

His thumb hesitated over her contact number.

What the hell, right? He didn’t have anything, so he didn’t really have anything to lose. Not with Rachel, anyway. She would at the very least listen and even if that didn’t ultimately solve Dave’s problems, the idea of putting an end to this melancholy feeling of loneliness that seemed to cling to Dave like a second skin was desperately appealing.

Dave really should call Rachel.

If just to hear, “It will be okay.”

It didn’t even have to be true.

David,” Rachel picked up the conversation the way she always did, half-way through, cutting away the excessive pleasantries in favor of getting to the point. “As much as I would love to chat right now I have almost perfected my- already phenomenal- rendition of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’, and I really need to keep practicing while I’m on a roll. So by all means, Godspeed good sir, lay whatever you need on me quick. Music waits for no woman.”

 Some would mistake it for annoyed, but Dave was familiar enough with intricacies of Rachel to recognize she was distracted, too focused on her personal achievements, the wonders of how pleasantly well things were going, to waste a thought on simple socialization. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk to Dave right now, she was just so…happy, driven, and she wanted to get back to that. To doing well.

It was a sign, probably, Dave should mutter an apologetic goodbye and catch up with her tomorrow, he shouldn’t waste her time, he shouldn’t interrupt inspiration when it hit, but his mind had sort of ground to a halt at ‘David’.

Stupid, his mom called him David all the time, that was his frickin’ name and Rachel had too, but since it had been used so recently for such horrible reasons it was all crashing down around him, his mother’s quiet sobs, muffled poorly against her hand, at her failing David.

Her boy, her son, who wasn’t good enough, who couldn’t be good enough, didn’t love her enough, to stay.

David was a coward.

Dave sort-of hated him.

He wasn’t aware of his quickened breathing, gasps thick in his ears until he heard the distant call of “David”, Rachel though- it was Rachel, over the line, sounding concerned, worried, broken.

Because that was what Dave did to people.

“Sorry,” he choked, face warm as he felt the beginning of tears prick at his eyelids. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-

Dave,” Rachel tried again. “Tell me what’s wrong. Did something happen?”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he continued. “I’ll tell you later, its fine-”

Dave.” And that was the no-nonsense, I-will-not-have-it voice that Rachel had perfected such a long time ago. “Forget what I was doing. If you dare hang up this phone I am going to hunt you down and drag what happened out of you. Let’s save us both some hassle, just tell me what went wrong.”

“I…”

It shouldn’t have been difficult.

Rachel already knew his secret, already understood Dave better than most of the people he knew, and supported him, and actively threatened him after he interrupted a successful practice session because he sounded like his world was ending.

It sort of had, but that wasn’t the point.

Indisputably, Rachel had his back.

For some odd reason though, that didn’t make it any easier to come clean.

The words wrestled in his throat, bunching one atop the other uncomfortably as Dave fought for the right thing to say. What he needed to communicate was not difficult in itself, words without matter, without the thought behind them, wasn’t hard.

It was just…the act of admitting them, of explaining to Rachel why Dave was…like this, had come to this; that act alone would make it all real. It would force the final nail into his coffin as a boy that had no home that wanted him, no mother that-

It was a confirmation of what he lost, and Dave just really, for a second, wanted to keep it. Just for him.

Dave.” Distantly, Dave recognized Rachel chanting his name over and over again, soothing and calm, and it was then he realized he had been actively crying into his phone. “Dave, where are you?”

“Faurot Park,” Dave muttered, name bitter on his tongue. “I just-”

Stay there; I’m coming to get you.”

“Rachel-”

I’m not accepting any arguments here. I don’t care what you think I should do in this situation, but let the record show-”

“My mom found out.”

Dave managed the words and a part of him, the dramatic part of him that was cultivated by Rachel, would have said it was a near thing, even if it hadn’t been. Yes, it had hurt (Lord, had it hurt), but they were out in the open now, and what was more, they were true and undeniable. Someone knew.

Now Dave wasn’t just dreaming. It wasn’t just a nightmare. It was real.

After a slight hesitation, Rachel composed herself. “I’m assuming then that it didn’t go very well.”

“Understatement,” Dave muttered, managing a laugh. It was more bitter than mirthful, but it was the best he could do. “She kicked me out Rachel.”

That would be the opposite of it going well,” the girl noted thoughtfully.

Dave wouldn’t say it, but he had never been more grateful for Rachel’s strength than he was now, the fact that the other teen hadn’t started sympathizing him, had skipped straight past coddling his emotions and into accepting the presence was a greater generosity than Dave could ever deserve.

You’ll come live with me,” Rachel decided, already in a flurry of movement on the other end of the line, descending some stairs. “Stay where you are, I’ll sort it out with my dads.”

“Rachel-” Dave didn’t know what to say, this had been the point, but he still couldn’t help but feel he was crossing a line here.

They’ll be discreet Dave,” Rachel promised, allaying Dave’s fears before they could arise. “I know it might not seem like it, but they’ll understand-

“I know they would Rachel.” He did, he truly did. “But I just- you don’t have to. You don’t…deserve, I guess, to have to put up with me just because-”

David Karofsky,” her words were not so much as an interruption, but a firm continuation of what she had been saying, so forceful that Dave’s past objections couldn’t have possibly been uttered. “Listen up, because I’m only going to say this one time. I forgive you. We all forgive you. We like you, and will continue to like you even if you have no intention of ever liking yourself.”

“I do-” Dave began to say, because he did¸ there were parts of him that were okay-

You don’t,” Rachel continued, definite. “And that’s not…that’s not great.

“I’m sorry,” Dave muttered.

No apologies necessary.” The tone was quiet, but moderately gentler than normal, making Rachel sound older than she was. “You are not alone in suffering from this not-great thing.”

“Rachel-”

David,” the girl countered, “We all- I mean everyone, but everyone in the Glee Club especially- have things about ourselves that we don’t like. Have done things that now we feel are unforgivable.

“Pretty much,” Dave agreed. “But Rach-”

Let me finish,” she tutted. “We are our own harshest criticizers. And often, we carry out the weight of our own self-imposed punishments, even when everyone else, especially those who have been wronged by us, have long since forgiven us. And while that is not great, it is a sign of a caring, good, human being. And even better than that, a good friend.

“I slushied you,” Dave muttered, seeing that mere interrupting would not be good enough. “I egged you and your car and called you names and slushied you for three years.”

“And now you’re my friend,” Rachel chirped, bright as day. “And that, in itself, has more than made up for it.”

“That’s dumb.”

I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” The words were threatening, but there was a lightness to their delivery, almost playful. “And if you really feel like I am still owed, you can let me help you, and we’ll call it even.”

“That’s cheating,” Dave grumbled.

There was a laugh. “That’s life.”

“Sure,” Dave replied. “Take my lowest moment to be all poetic.”

Every moment deserves poetry,” Rachel countered, sounding unabashedly cheerful. “Now, stay where you are. I am not above hunting all over town for you if I don’t find you in that park, okay?”

“Okay.” Dave nodded, even if she couldn’t see him. It felt appropriate regardless. “And Rachel?”

You’re welcome Dave,” the brunette said, fondness - he could hear it now - in her tone. “You’re always welcome.”

“Thank you.”

He said it in lieu of goodbye, allowing the other teen to make whatever preparations she deemed necessary to make room for his intrusion- his…stay.

His welcomed stay.

Dave was still crying, if anyone saw him hunched on the weather-beaten bench they would suspect he was unstable, probably, but that didn’t stop Dave from clutching his phone against his chest and smiling.

Tears falling down his face, ground uncertain beneath his feet, Dave smiled.

And he felt grateful.

-:-:-:-:-:-

The Berry’s house, while not modest by any means, was marginally less fanciful and overdone than their boisterous attitudes would lead you to believe. The style was elegant and tasteful with hints of a fresh, modern air scattered throughout, and it was held to a standard of cleanliness that was demonstrative to the mania of its owners.

This was not the first time Dave had been to Rachel’s house. There had been study dates and practice sessions and movie nights (when Dave couldn’t bear the idea of watching Avatar again and scrabbled for an excuse, Rachel always welcoming, if a little disappointed). In the world of relationships between people and locations, Dave and Rachel’s house were firm acquaintances, familiar enough to carry out easy conversation, but not so inclined to understand the entire inner workings of one another.

He supposed that was all going to change now.

That was, if Dave could survive the awkward sit-down with Mr. and Mr. Berry in the living room, and despite Rachel’s solid presence at his side, Dave was getting less and less sure that was going to happen.

The finger sandwiches were a nice touch, Dave noted, almost detachedly. The intricate arrangement and precise, completely uniform angles were indicative of somebody’s culinary skill, and that was enough to completely destroy whatever sorry attempts Dave might have had at an appetite. It was too familiar, too resounding to his mother’s care and thoughtfulness, how attentive she was to let no stomach be wanting, even in the face of an army of teenagers. She had- she’d never chided them for it, only strove to make balanced snacks with a knowing but cheerful grin on her face, happy to help, glad to be-

“Sorry,” Dave muttered, pressing his face into his hands once he realized he had started crying again. “Sorry, I-”

“It’s okay Dave.” Rachel shifted, arm wrapping around his shoulders, comforting warmth. “You don’t have to say anything.”

“I know,” Dave choked out, squeezing his eyes closed in a futile attempt to stem the flow. “I know, just-”

“David?”

It was one of Rachel’s dads- Hiram, if Dave remembered correctly, the one with the glasses. When he had composed himself enough that the gasps had settled down, Dave risked pulling his hands away, figuring at the very least, Rachel’s dad deserved his attempted attention.

The face he met was a serious one, understanding the gravity of Dave’s situation, but there was- his eyes were kind, Dave guessed. Both of them- Hiram and Leroy- were not drowning Dave in sympathy, but an emphatic kind of awareness that indicated just how truly they knew where he was coming from. He almost missed it, so stuck in bemoaning his fate, that they were holding their hands between them, resting on the couch. It didn’t even look like it had been intentional; their attention was all on Dave, but still it-

Just the comfort, the idea of having that with somebody, this quiet consolation, this privilege for a certain kind of intimacy- it gave Dave hope.

He could have that one day, now. Maybe.

“I’m not going to tell you it will get better,” Hiram said, fingers subconsciously squeezing his hold on Leroy tighter. “But I can say, in the truest and most heartfelt sense, that we completely understand where you are coming from. That we know, intimately, that today was probably one of the hardest days of your life.”

Feeling conflicted between offering a response and knowing his clumsy interruption would be somehow retroactively ruin Hiram’s speech, Dave settled on nodding. Rachel, who was putting the rumors of her self-absorption completely at bay tonight, only hugged him tighter.

“And I will say,” Leroy continued, picking up Hiram’s speech easily, both of their gazes still focused on Dave. “That you are welcome to stay here forever.”

“We were going to say ‘for as long as you need’,” Hiram interrupted, smile playing on his lips. “But Rachel was very insistent on your self-sacrificing nature.”

“You don’t need-” Dave protested, throwing a small frown in Rachel’s direction as he felt the heat rise up to his face. “You don’t have to do that, I don’t-”

Forever!” Leroy insisted, pumping his fist into the air. “And I will hear no arguments!”

“Besides,” Hiram was smiling, leaning against his husband playfully as Hiram brusquely went about making more proclamations. “There’s always more room in the Berry family.”

With a few more declarations, Leroy whisked himself off of the couch, striding towards the kitchen so they could make a proper toast to Dave’s arrival, to celebrate a new beginning. As beverages were poured (and Dave was not surprised that the Berries were the kind of people who had sparkling cider on hand, he truly was not) Dave regained some of his bearings, eyes drying and a smile, a true smile, pulling at his lips.

Hiram grinned at him knowingly, arm slung about his husbands shoulders as they clinked their glasses together, getting in one final word.

“You are welcome here, David Karofsky,” he said, his forehead tilting against Leroy’s, Rachel mimicking the action on their side of the couch.

It was…new. Not unfamiliar, not awful, just…new.

And even though he was still aching- and honestly, there would most likely never be a moment where the events of this would completely lose there hold on Dave- he couldn’t help but feel that maybe, somehow, this was for the better.

Maybe he should take Rachel’s advise and finally, finally let go.

And welcome forgiveness with open arms.

Chapter Text

Mike had to be honest; he was now, had been, and would probably continue to be (much to his own outraged chagrin) confused about the social standings of his Glee-mates. Mostly because shit this simple shouldn’t be this hard and that thought, in itself, was probably enough to doom him from the very beginning. It was a thing. A the-universe-hates-Mike-Chang-and-his-kind thing.

It was also stupid, but Mike had long-since past the time where he could express such opinions without being met with a single dubiously raised eyebrow from Kurt, so he resorted back to the behaviors of Old-Mike and kept his business to himself. He didn’t need their laughter when his worries were reasonable, but whatever, that wasn’t really the point.

Mike was confused.

Specifically, he was confused by one bleached-blond, Avatar-loving individual and one slightly-reserved jock that was all about bleached-blond, Avatar-loving individuals.

Was Mike stalling? No, he was puzzling, because he was goddamn confused.

They had made out, and Mike remembered that bit because it had happened after he and Sam had made out (opening up a whole unpleasant can of worms of drunken cheat-nannigans that Mike had justifiably borne the guilt of, only later to be cleared in a super Hebr-Asian Fusion heart-to-heart) and even to this day Mike was having trouble forgetting about that (despite his efforts), so there was no way he would forget the Dave-and-Sam hook up.

Kurt had been less-than-pleased when he had heard about that transaction. Scratch that, Kurt had been pissed, and a pissed Kurt was a Kurt that subjected still-slightly-hungover Mikes to intricate lectures about the appropriate way to keep control of a romantic-meddling situation.

Which, now that Mike thought about it, was kind of creepy.

Suddenly Mike was hit with a strong and unshakeable desire to never, ever learn what Rachel and Kurt talked about whenever they were alone. For the sake of Mike’s little world, ignorance would probably be his best option.

But with the deed being done (so very, very well; if his hazy, voyeuristic past-self could recall) and eagerly responded to, and nobody had been punched, which should have been enough for them to realize all of the hots they had for each other were completely reciprocated.

Except Dave had to go and be noble and now nobody was getting into each others pants.

Of the two aforementioned teens, of course.

Mike was getting plenty of action, thanks for asking, perve.

They had a talk, they had to have a talk because of Dave’s nobility that Mike had previously mentioned with no negative connotations whatsoever, and Mike had it on good authority (you know, as Sam’s best friend- or one of them, cripes) that a certain bleached-blond had come out of that conversation mighty chipper.

Which was good, there were a lot of unpleasant possibilities that could’ve resulted from such delicate conversations that needed to be avoided; Mike just didn’t think getting the boyfriend was one of them.

It was-

Just-

Jesus.

Mike knew Sam was selectively oblivious, but they were already practically dating as it was, how could they not take the leap?

Mike understood, with the kind of depression that resulted from intimate self-awareness, how rich this was coming from him. That he had made out with Puck on a very regular basis before his thick head realized there were any sort of feelings involved, but Dave and Sam were different. They were actually nice to each other, supported each other, where the other’s metaphorical wings whenever they were metaphorically falling. If a random stranger came up, considered their interactions with a critical (if somewhat creepy) eye and surmised, “Yeah, those two, dating” it would not seem out of place because they practically were.

Sam had to know that, he had to, there was just no way…

But then again, Mike had proven that obliviousness could be a profession if you tried hard enough, so he supposed at the end of the day, it wasn’t completely impossible.

It should have, however, been at the very least an opportunity for Dave to start moving in, for him to step up and prove that he could be – and would be – a good possibility, a proper candidate, for courting Sam. There should be flirting, there should be Sam beginning to realize Dave was hot, there should be sugary sweetness so sickening and cheesy that Sam would have to date Dave for fear of collapsing the space-time continuum by denying every hint, nudge, and blatant message fate had been trying to chuck their way.

These are the things that should have happened.

Guess how many of those things actually happened?

If your guess was “Diddly squat”, congratulations, you’ve won free entry into ‘Frustration Nation’; we have pulling-out-your-hair-from-inarticulate-rage every other Tuesday.

One of these days, Mike was going to make new friends. It would probably be easier than improving the current bunch.

It was just- Dave. Dave! Mike had no idea what he was doing. If his gameplan for wooing was playing seriously hard to get with perpetual avoidance and the saddest of puppy-dog eyes, he was a moron, because Sam would never buy that. And if he was avoiding and surrendering himself to mock-depression and giving up, then Mike was going to club him to death with his own shoes.

There was reciprocation! There were no longer any what-ifs or would-he-possiblys! There was willing, able contact, the only thing left was to open Sam’s eyes to the possibility of bisexuality and the Glee club in general had dealt with that issue enough times they could have their own reality tv show.

It would be hosted by Kurt, of course. Mike would help regulate wardrobe. He was a bro like that.

Mike didn’t know what was going through Dave’s head right now to make him start doubting, to make him no longer try anymore, but he wasn’t going to sit around and let his opportunity go to waste. Not when Dave had helped him get his own personal shit together with Puck and Tina. The hard part - and it would always be the hard part, of any move for a new relationship - was putting yourself out there, and even if Sam obviously wasn’t impaired by the whole making-out-with-dude concept, Dave had probably convinced himself it was either the booze talking, or that the actions in itself weren’t enough of a confirmation.

It would be better; it would be easier if Sam already acknowledged his possible attraction to guys. If Dave knew that, and Sam knew that, it would be easier in the long run, for both of them.

That was it; Mike was going to repay his debt. Forget Kurt and his stringent rules and all of the overdramatized gestures; it was time for Mike to have a real talk with Sam. Maybe it had been the booze coaxing the blond’s actions, maybe he had just been experimenting, maybe he didn’t know, but Mike would, at the very least, try.

He knew from experience that it helped to have a sounding board for these kinds of things, and if Dave had helped him see his own bisexuality…

Maybe he could do the same for Sam. Just, take a few deep breaths, tap into the calm, focused Mike of yester-year, and help out his friend to the best of his ability, see how it goes from there. Then he would focus on Dave.

It was, in Mike’s opinion, a solid plan. Actually, with the most recent addition of New Direction making such an effort not to be around Sam, Mike could put his strategy into effect right away. He would just grab the rest of his stuff out of his locker before making the call.

Out of habit, he checked under the false floor he’d installed (graciously gifted from one Lauren Zizes with a firm ‘don’t-ask-and-I-won’t-smash’ policy) for the decoy notebook he had hidden away. Yeah, he still had that thing, but for a good reason.

The plan was to eventually shove it into the mess of sheet music strewn about the choir room, but for now, Mike kept it safe. His locker was the best place he could think for it, seeing as anywhere else could be potentially incriminating to one of his friends (and they didn’t really need any fingers being thrown around over what was essentially nothing), so he, like every other time he had checked, really didn’t expect to see anything other than a dinosaur-laden notebook squashed under a very impressive counterfeit locker flooring.

For a moment, Mike thought he was hallucinating the dank, very ugly, and very empty locker bottom.

Then common sense kicked in and he realized that he, in fact, was looking at an empty locker bottom, with not even the slightest hint of what had previously occupied that space.

Which could only mean…

Think about it…

Shiiiiiit.

He didn’t bother stewing over it anymore, Mike just forced himself to stop gaping moronically into his locker and shut the dented metal door, making a quick one-eighty on his heal before charging in the general direction of where he thought Kurt would be, knowing- with growing horror- that there was no way the universe could possibly give him this big a middle finger.

Someone, somewhere out there in the cosmos, was laughing their ass off.

Of course they were, because things were just starting to go the right way.

The notebook was missing.

The notebook had been stolen.

The completely-made-up-for-bonding-purposes, the not-actually-missing missing notebook had actually been stolen.

Mike needed to find Kurt.

He needed to find him like, yesterday.

-:-:-:-:-:-

There was a shift of balance in the force. Finn, with his over-eager fanboyish tendencies would probably marvel at that too enthusiastically for it to be considered normal should Kurt ever voice these opinions, but the expression, however distasteful, couldn’t help but be accurate. The flow of what should be had been disturbed and now, when his plan (and Mike’s, however marginal his input) was finally coming to head, reaching the most long-awaited stages, Karofsky was ruining everything.

Lord, it was like the guy didn’t even want to be happy.

There had been enough critical looks from Blaine, Santana, and even Quinn, of all people, that clearly warned Kurt not stick his nose into it, to leave the two previously-attached-at-the-hip ‘besties’ to their own devises, but there was only so much restraint Kurt could exercise. They were avoiding each other with the most pitiful looks of longing plastered across their faces for Pete’s sake, and this was the time they wanted him to back off?

It was ridiculous. They weren’t going to get anywhere without a firm hand to-

“Don’t even think about it Baby face.”

“Why, hello to you too Santana,” Kurt drawled, never tearing his eyes away from the tragic seen in front of him, with Dave trying desperately hard to pretend his complete lack of eye contact with Sam was natural, and the blond trying just as strongly to catch the other teen’s attention while playing it cool.

“Just look at it,” he said with a put upon sigh, hand rising to massage away the growing headache. “Can we really leave them to suffer like this?”

“I mean it Kurt,” the Latina replied breezily, whipping out a nail file and setting to work on her manicure with detached efficiency. “As much as I likes me some shenanigans, let them get through this on their own.”

“Alright,” Kurt snapped, turning to face his disinterested teammate. “Who are you and what have you done with Santana?”

The female was unperturbed by his (somewhat weak) suggestion. “It would appear that I, unlike some people-”

“Quinn paid you off, didn’t she?”

“Quinn and Blaine paid me off, thanks,” Santana replied with a smirk, giving him a look that said ‘what kind of chump do you think I am?’. “Personally, I’ve been trying to avoid looking at this mess. I like keeping my lunch down.”

“It’s a tragedy,” Kurt said with a shudder.

Santana hummed in agreement. “No arguments here. Now the question is, how are you going to play this?”

“You’re trying really hard to earn those payments, aren’t you?” Kurt drawled, raising his eyebrows.

Santana rolled her eyes and gestured vaguely over to the train-wreck-in-motion with a flick of her wrist. “I said I wouldn’t meddle. Can I really be expected to dissuade others? That’s some kind of dedicated-effort shit there.”

“You truly are an inspiration to us all.”

“Can it Porcelain.” The other teen narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Before my generosity comes to an end, and I needs to find me some new entertainment.”

If ‘entertainment’ in this case meant suffering, or at least emotional torture, then Kurt would be lying if he said he was unconcerned with keeping Santana occupied in that regard.

“Noted,” he replied, keeping the concern out of his tone.

“Peachy.” Santana clapped her hands together, plastering a well-practiced, falsely sweet smile on her face. “So, what’s the plan?”

Kurt sighed, restraining himself from allowing the pent up exasperation show on his features as he divulged his newest strategy. “Alright, so clearly Dave’s-”

Kurt.”

And dear lord, he comes another one.

Whatever annoyance Kurt had, he quelled it, firmly holding onto his air of professionalism as he turned to face Mike, looking that particular brand of freaking out and frantic that only the dancer could quite pull off.

It was beyond his usual ‘Puck-is-being-stupid’ frenzy, or his ‘I-forgot-that-assignment-I-didn’t-actually-forget-but-I-won’t-remember-that-until-two-minutes-from-now’ worry, but with that fear, and that barely-contained panic, Kurt could only have a flashback to the Mike of the previous year, before he truly understood the depths of the spazztastic individual hiding beneath the surface.

The fear though, that was the thing that stepped Kurt’s mild annoyance at being interrupted to legitimate concern. Worried-Mike was not unusual, Scared-Mike was a bit harder to come by, and was generally the result of legitimate concerns.

“Can it Happy Feet,” Santana snarked, not realizing the gravity of their situation. “Save your babble-fest for later, we are scheming here.”

“Yeah- whatever, that’s great,” Mike rambled on, waving a distracted hand at Santana without ever pulling his panicked eyes from Kurt. “There are- There is- It’s just- problems, man. We’ve got problems.”

Santana scoffed not-so-delicately from Kurt’s other side. “Pick a number String Bean; there’s only room for one gay crisis at a time here.”

“Different kind of crisis,” Mike replied, sparing the female a quick glance. After that he was back to begging Kurt to suddenly develop telepathic communication through the sheer force of his sad eyes. “It’s about the notebook-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Santana drawled, having grown bored with this, she had turned and faced the other teens further down the hallway. “It’s missing, we all know.”

“You what?” Mike asked, momentarily distracted.

Kurt had to admit he was interested in this too, see as it was supposed to be a secret.

Santana gave an unimpressed shrug. “Britney,” was all she said by way of explanation.

Kurt supposed it made sense.

Mike found his bearings before Kurt did. “Yeah!” he shouted, something Kurt could have done without, all over-enthusiastic and unnecessarily loud, but Mike had launched onto the idea eagerly, like a lifeline. “Yeah Kurt,” he tried again with an apologetic glance, realizing his error. “The notebook is missing.”

“Yes Mike,” Kurt grumbled, rubbing at his still-ringing ears irritably. “We all know that-”

He froze mid-statement, finally putting together the panicked eyes and the excessive volume and the desperate, almost deranged look in Mike’s eyes.

“Mike,” Kurt tried again, his voice a low, controlled threat. “What did you do?”

Suffice it to say, his tone must not had been as reserved as he had intended it to be, because before he knew it Santana’s attention was completely back on them, her interest indicated by the quirk of one finely-groomed eyebrow.

“Okay then,” she said to herself, cocking her hip to the side. “I think I found my new source of entertainment.”

Kurt was about to wave her off, assure her of the complete irrelevance of what would follow, but with his social duties came a sort of weariness, and in this instance retrieving back up to deal with Mike’s…Mike-ness, would not be unfounded.

“Alright,” Kurt muttered, waving her along as he strode forward, snatching Mike’s wrist and striding towards a place of safety, where they could talk without fear of prying eyes or stray ears. “But once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no way out.”

“Ooh, secret society vows?” Santana chirped with mock interest, her heels clacking resolutely against the worn hallway tile. “Yeah, I am definitely in.”

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam wasn’t coping.

See, coping was a thing people did when their lives got all hard and unbearable, or when something super catastrophic happened that made normal, everyday stuff like, the roughest of rough to deal with, so then they had to force their brain to think around it. Or something like that.

See, Sam didn’t even truly understand what coping was because he had never done it. And still wasn’t doing it. That was kind of the point here. There was no reason to look further into it. Sam wasn’t coping because Sam didn’t need to cope. His life was peachy. Great. Top. The toppest of top. Or, you know, as good as it could be while still being labeled as Public Enemy Number One to every over-muscled, insecure male in the school.

Unfortunately, if there was one thing Lima was good at producing, it was males that had been over-blessed with physique and not-so gifted in the mental department. Cue Sam as an example. Then cue the other twelve or so guys that liked to give him a hard time in the locker room on a semi-regular basis, stack the odds against each other, and evaluate just how easily a resolution could be reached through rational debate.

The answer, Sam knew from regrettable experience, was ‘screw-you impossible’, which was just another reason to add to the ‘Why Sam can’t work out alone’ column of his life. He knew he should have brought a buddy, or something. Usually the bullies were dissuaded from attacking when he had backup for some odd reason (though Sam suspected it was because whatever gay-germs they thought he had would contaminate his friends, and not them, which was stupid, but it worked so he wasn’t complaining).

But today Sam had decided to fly solo, and all he had wanted was to work off a little steam after Dave had blown him off for their bad-movie night with the excuse that Rachel had asked him to be her personal audience first.

Rachel, like she really needed an audience like, the eighth time around; but Dave had promised and stupid-Dave didn’t break his stupid-promises because he was a decent human being with standards and stuff.

The fact that these promises were beginning to pop up more and more frequently was not something Sam had missed, and it bugged him, yeah, for more reasons that one. At first Sam had thought that maybe Dave was avoiding him because the whole, you-know, the thing, and even though the other teen had said they were cool he was still all, like, awkward and stuff.

That was Sam’s first suspicion, and to be honest, it was sort of his preferred suspicion because the idea that followed that one he liked even less, one that wasn’t pleasant to think about at all.

‘Cuz Rachel was a smart person right? And Dave? He was super smart - no question - and maybe Rachel hadn’t realized before that Dave was a cool dude who could like smart-people things with her that maybe Finn didn’t get, and now she was hogging up all the Dave-time simply because she figured out that she could. And worse, Dave would let her. You know, to mix up his company a bit. Maybe get a taste for what it was like to not slum-it with his best friends.

Sam knew he was being stupid (on top of the usual amount of stupid he naturally possessed), that Dave would never be shallow enough to just like, humor Sam through friendship, but it didn’t make the thoughts stop coming. Every time Sam got ditched for a ‘French study session’ or his movie night got replaced with an art film festival or videogames were traded in for brunch (mixing two distinctly separate types of meal into a realm where they were better separated, thanks), Sam just got a little bit more antsy.

Dave still hung out with him, of course. Dave was Sam’s friend. But it almost wasn’t the same as before, and aside from going back in time and sucker punching his past, drunken self Sam didn’t know what he could do to make it better. He was willing to do whatever Dave wanted if he would just talk to him again. And not like the “What step goes after this one, Sam?” or “Nice try, the answer’s 32” or “No, I don’t think you can fit fifteen marshmallows into your mouth”, but the old stuff where they liked, shared things. Where Sam had value.

When did his life suddenly become about playing second fiddle to Rachel Berry? That was Mercedes’ job. Or Kurt’s. Not Sam’s. And definitely not when there was no singing involved.

What was that about?

Part of Sam wanted to believe that Dave was just latching onto Rachel because it was a new friendship and interesting and stuff, that eventually he would come back because of- you know, Sam.

The other, smaller part of him wondered if that was how he had achieved his own status in Dave’s life in the first place, simply by being new, by being different, and if his novelty had finally worn off.

He was thinking too much into this.

It was making his head hurt- maybe Sam shouldn’t do it, but- if he didn’t think about it and Dave actually like, friend-dumped him, how much worse would it feel if Sam hadn’t focused on it at all?

About as much as his head was about to hurt in 3, 2, 1, and…

Yep, coming around full circle (what do you know?), and Sam’s head ricocheted off the locker behind him hard enough to leave stars blinding his eyes, his assailant laughing mercilessly at his shock.

Guess he couldn’t really argue that as unjustified, Sam should’ve seen it coming.

“What?” the guy- Strando, Sam realized once his vision started to clear, sneered at him, his five or six lackeys chuckling along. “Not so tough without your boyfriend to protect you?”

There was a moment of confusion where Sam couldn’t tell if he was referring to Puck or to Dave (because he protected Sam, right?), causing an overwhelming feeling of something unnamed spike through him before the blond realized he had much bigger problems than analyzing an insult.

There were five lackeys then, he realized, plus Strando. A total of six.

Not good odds for him.

“Fuck off Strando,” Sam spat, slowly rolling out his right shoulder, where he had been checked into the locker. “You gonna talk to me about being weak when you need five guys here backing you up just to talk? Yeah, I’m real scared, big guy.”

Were Kurt here, he would probably tsk and shoot Sam a disapproving glare for the unnecessary provocation, but to be fair, Sam’s ears were still ringing, and he was beginning to get kind of pissed that he couldn’t even get the five minutes it was necessary to change just so he could work out in freakin’ peace. Was that so much to ask for?

Apparently. Strando’s face contorted into what Dave would politely call ‘displeasure’ and everyone else would call ‘ass-monkey rage’. Before the blond knew what was happening, the other jock was on him, one hand holding tight to his shirt collar and using his size advantage to shove Sam back against the lockers with ease.

“Whatchoo say, fairy?” the teen snarled, giving Sam a deft shake to smack his head back against the metal once more for good measure. “Looks like I don’t need a team to take care of you now, do I?”

“Guess not,” Sam huffed once his head stopped moving, eyes closing as he tried to will the pain away. “Guess you just get off from having an audience, then.”

It probably wasn’t the best thing to say.

What?!

“Not that I blame you,” Sam continued, figuring if he’d gone this far, what the hell did he have to lose. “I am very pretty.”

Or so he’d been told once by a drunken-Kurt. And also by a drunken-Puck, but they’d agreed not to mention it again after Tina had gone potential-murder-face on him.

Shut up!” Strando hissed, expression hilariously torn between the need for violence and the overwhelming desire to put as much space between himself and Sam as possible. “You’re such a fairy Evans!”

“I’m not gay jackass,” Sam insisted, fruitlessly he knew, for about the hundredth time that week. “Hey,” he said, evil smirk growing on his face just as an idea hit him. “Maybe you’re projecting. Maybe you want to think I’m gay so bad because you’re gay.”

And that- no, that did not win him any brownie points, but Strando’s face did reach an interesting shade of scarlet, so…that was something. “Shut it, Evans. That’s just what you’d want, right? To infect the rest of us with your stupid faggyness-”

“A,” Sam began to list, forcing himself to keep an amused smile as he fought through his frustration. “It’s not a disease dipshit, and B, if it was; it would be too late for you, wouldn’t it? I mean,” he tilted his head forward, pushing into Strando’s personal space with a smug leer. “You seem awfully fond of keeping me close.”

Hell, I should of thought about doing this awhile ago, Sam thought with a smirk.

Strando was across the room in an instant, shoving the blond away with an almost careless push as he retreated back towards his friends, indignantly sputtering all the while.

“I’m not gay,” the bully insisted, eyes desperately searching the other jocks’ expressions for support. “You’re just stupid Evans,” Strando continued, trying to recover the ‘manliness’ he had lost before it was too late. “Why the hell Karofsky chose your dumb ass over us, I’ll never know.”

It hurt, probably because at this point Sam couldn’t help but have those thoughts himself sometimes, but he refused to let it show on his face, choosing to focus on getting out of this situation without his face smashed into a thousand pieces instead..

“Yeah,” one of the onlookers- Jarred, now that Sam could get a look at him- chimed in. “We lost a good guy because of you Evans.”

“That’s right,” Strando continued, volume building, using Jarred’s comment to regain his control of the situation. “First there’s your stupid song-team, and then you brainwash Karofsky, and now this?” His grimace turned into a hateful sneer, utterly unimpressed with Sam to the point of extreme disgust. “To think, you were one of us once, man.”

Psh,” another guy- Mark, Sam thought- piped up. “More like lady, now.”

“Right,” Strando agreed with a laugh. He opened his mouth to move on, but then he paused.

Sam could almost see the exact moment when the lugnut managed to get an evil idea of his own, and whatever dismissals he was about to make were abandoned in favor of a devilish smile.

Had Sam not still been reeling from all of the Dave-comments, he would have tried to make a run for it way soon.

Because, yeah, that was why Sam never bothered talking back before.

It never worked.

“Yeah,” Strando repeated, and Sam would swear with no exaggeration that his eyes were freakin’ gleaming with excitement. “And if he’s a lady, shouldn’t he wear lady clothes?”

“Ummm…” Sam blanked for a moment, confusion overwhelming his sense of impending doom. He had an idea where this was going; but also, he didn’t, seeing as this was a guy’s locker room with no lady clothes readily available.

Unless there was a secret here one of these assholes felt like sharing with the rest of the class.

Which was doubtful.

Apparently Sam was not the only one Strando had confused, a few of his lackeys sharing uncertain glances (which comforted him somewhat, ‘cuz, you know, he wasn’t alone (even if he really was)).

“I mean,” Strando continued, unconcerned with his friend’s bewilderment. “He definitely doesn’t need guy-clothes, right?”

And…nope. Sam still had nothing.

It dawned on Jarred first, who startled out of his confusion with an almost-timid smile, looking to his leader for support. It reminded Sam of that time Kurt had decided the Hummel-Hudson household wasn’t getting ‘enough culture’ and stuck the television on Animal Planet for three days straight. Like, a herd instinct or something; Sam couldn’t really remember.

Jarred nodded eagerly. “Yeah, he’s just making the rest of us look bad, right?”

“Definitely,” Mark agreed, and the hums and hahs of them all getting on the same page started to fade away to the sense of overwhelming panic ringing in Sam’s ears.

Please don’t let this mean what Sam thought it meant. That wouldn’t be fair; he already had enough shit to deal with-

There was no audible signal for when they should attack, they just did; one moment Sam was surrounded by a loose semi-circle, back against a row of lockers, the next- nothing, no distance, no personal space, no room. Only hands, hands, and shit- more hands, and something about this vaguely registered as close to assault, or was assault, but like that kind that nobody ever wanted to talk about- stupid, there wasn’t any kind worth talking about-

He lost his shirt in an effort to keep his pants, or his belt, to be honest, because it was a good belt and it had served him well all these years- Sam wasn’t even sure how he managed to keep one hand firmly on it at all times while they tore his shirt from his upper body (which he had also liked, but at the moment there had to be priorities, and priority number one was pants).

“Strando-” he managed, gasping out a protest as they shoved him up against the lockers - up as in up - high enough to tear off his shoes. “What the hell?! You’re crazy!

Shit, there went his socks, not that he needed them, but with twelve hands and only one thing to focus on, the tug-a-war for Sam’s belt was about to become a humiliating defeat.

He’d had a big mouth all his life; he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t learned to keep it shut by now.

“Strando,” Sam tried again. “Mark, Jarr-” he cut himself off, struggling, trying his damndest to thrash out of their grip as two of them went for his arms, wrenching them firmly out to the side and shoving them up and out, where they would be no use.

Why the hell was Sam trying to reason again? He needed to go back to being a smart aleck, there was no way in hell this was less-gay than what Strando was doing earlier. And now they were doing it as a group.

He lost his belt, he lost his freakin’ belt and Strando clamped a heavy hand over his mouth, eyes narrowing with a wicked grin.

It was awful.

“Stppp,” Sam managed against the hand, trying to get his point across anyway as his belt was carelessly tossed to the side. He was going to lose his pants, and then maybe his underwear if they felt like being real assholes (and they would) and then what would they do? How would they follow this up? Would they take his shit and just leave him here? What about his backpack? What about his shoes? What about when they got to the point where they realized six dudes were standing uncomfortably close to a naked guy- a naked- shit, he was about to lose all his clothes and probably his backpack and how was he supposed to get home? They would probably take his gym clothes too-

“What the- Get the hell off him, Strando, you spazz!”

The voice broke through the ruckus just as Strando made one final wretch, pulling the blond’s pants and boxers down to mid-thigh in a swift movement. The guys holding onto Sam’s arms keep a firm grip but the interruption bought Sam a reprieve from the others. They had backed away, curious to see who had spoken up.

Frankly, Sam couldn’t think of a time he was ever happier to see Puck in his life. And he was mostly naked.

The ‘mostly’ was there for the sake of his dignity, and his not-coping and stuff, because Sam essentially was just, you know, casually pinned up against the wall with his junk hanging out. That wasn’t traumatizing or anything.

Finn was only a few steps behind Puck, whose face was beginning to twist into an especially epic picture of rage.

“What the hell’s wrong with you people?” Finn asked, almost legitimately, as his confusion fought against his anger to try and comprehend what he was seeing. “Seriously?”

He didn’t even bother saying any more, leaving the ‘This is the new brand of ridiculous bullshit you need to feel like a man?’ that would have followed a silent, but very real statement, in the air.

“Shut it Hudson,” Strando sneered, and now Sam could see, clutched in one hand was his t-shirt, held triumphantly like some kind of victory flag. “This is what your kind likes, isn’t it?”

Sam would have happily made his own protests to let the dipshit know that really wasn’t the case, but nameless-guy-on-right-arm had decided to take up Strando’s old job and had a hand shoved over the blond’s mouth accordingly, because apparently now they were in a hostage situation, or something.

It was sad to think that on the scale of Glee-kidnapping situations, this probably wasn’t the worst thing that had happened.

It was also depressing to think that there was a scale of Glee-kidnappings, but that was irrelevant at this point.

Thankfully, there were at least two sane people in the room for Sam now that would be more than happy to point out how preposterously misinformed Strando was. By the look of it, Puck was going to have at it first, shrugging off his jacket carelessly before making a show of tilting his head to the side, his neck making an audible ‘crack’.

“Screw it,” Puck muttered. “I’m just gonna hit ‘em.”

Finn, who knew his friend better than anyone else, already had a hand curled against Puck’s shoulder before he could lunge, reeling him back to his side. “Cool it,” he ordered quietly. His face was calm, which was great, because Sam wasn’t really feeling that so much himself and his junk was still out, so he was glad that at least somebody looked like they were collected enough to get them out of this. Even if that person was Finn, who didn’t have the best of track records when it came to appealing to the Football players.

In fact, the only one worse at it was Puck, and after that little thought dawned him, Sam decided to go back to his plan of ‘frantically-struggle-away’, and then maybe ‘frantically-make-them-leave’ because they might as well minimize the damage when things took a turn for the worse. Or, more worse.

Things were pretty un-great for all of them, at this moment, but if they could only be un-great for Sam that was a concession he would take.

It wasn’t the best situation. Even with the arrival of his friends the odds were still two-to-one, and as good as they were in a fight, Sam wasn’t going to be much help as- you know – things were, and his two guys had already pretty much owned him in every possible way.

Oh, cool, nameless-guy-on-left-arm had finished up Strando’s job for him, forcing Sam’s pants now into a tangled heap at his ankles. How could herd mentality (Sam was pretty sure that was the word now) make these dimwits so blind to how…bizarre this was? Was anybody else registering this as psychotic, or was it just him?

Puck didn’t miss the action, eyes narrowing into defensive slits as he made another move to attack, and this time Finn really had to work for it to keep him at his side, grip tightening. His face was still calm, but his posture was screaming desperate, like he was barely holding it together because the shit had just hit the fan.

Sam was more comfortably familiar with that expression than he would have liked.

“Hey psychos,” (oh good, not just Sam then) Finn began, cheek twitching as he stared the down, carefully. “How the hell are-?”

“Get the fuck off of him.”

The tide turned before any of them knew what was going on, the overwhelmed stand-still they had been stuck in screeching to a jarred halt as Dave barged into the room, shoving past his fellow gleeks and the other jocks, making a bee-line for Sam with a face that promised all kinds of hell to pay if anyone tried to stop him.

The two arm-holders shared an uncertain look, clearly still thinking the odds were in their favor (and were it anyone else they might have been, but based on Dave’s expression, they really weren’t now). They hesitated, looking to Strando for confirmation, and Dave took that moment of confusion to deftly grab the guy on Sam’s right arm by the scruff and haul him off like it was nothing, chucking him aside as unceremoniously as Sam’s clothes had previously been. The room exploded in protests, the other jocks snapping out of their haze to remember they had the number advantage, but Dave gave all-kinds-of-no-damns.

He was on the other guy just as quickly as the first, and Sam finally managed to not be such a useless piece of pathetic-ness and elbowed Left-Arm just as Dave reached for him. The blond yanked himself out of the guy’s grasp and pulled his pants back on as Dave went to town wrecking the other guy, going all ‘Hulk, Smash’ on his still-surprised, dumb ass.                                                                                                                              

The earlier relief of seeing Puck was easily dwarfed by the sheer gratitude of seeing Dave again, in action, forcefully playing guard dog between Sam and the rest of his antagonizers, look on his face an eerie kind of intense calm. Like, his expression was schooled, but his eyes said ‘Try it, I will break you’.

Sam was secure enough in his masculinity to admit that being rescued by Dave was kind of awesome.

“Are you brain damaged Strando?” Dave continued, voice low and threatening, hands curling into uncomfortably tight fists at his side. “This is the kind of shit you can get arrested for.”

“What the hell do you care?” Strando snapped, angry, but behind that was a sense of hurt, if a low-life like Strando was capable of that. “He’s a goddamn fairy-”

“And you’re acting like a psychopath,” Dave countered (hey, that made three of them). The sudden tension in his shoulders was unnoticed by anyone but Sam, who was standing behind him. “Comparatively speaking, who looks like the better option then?”

“You can’t be serious man,” Jarred, fiddling with Sam’s discarded belt, tried appealing to Dave. “He had it coming.”

Behind the mass of Dave, Sam heard Puck make a noise of outraged disagreement. “You dumb-”

Finn must cut him off somehow, because whatever expletives that were bound to follow ended with an abrupt grumble. That was all Sam got to process before Dave was turning back towards him. It took Sam a few seconds to realize that he was offering Sam his sweatshirt, allowing the blond to end the conversation with some dignity if- or until (hopefully) - they got the rest of his things back.

It took a lot, but Sam managed not to hug the clothing to his chest like a three-year-old with their favorite toy, because the sweatshirt was that blue one that was super-soft on the inside, the one Dave had stopped wearing once he became the slushie target of the century, and Sam had missed the hell out of it. Mostly because when he put it on it was like this super cocoon of happiness, all big and soft and smelling like a fresh spring day (Dave’s mom splurged on the good laundry stuff, and for that, Sam was eternally grateful, and the sweatshirt wasn’t even his).

He didn’t hug it, and he definitely didn’t shove his face into it and deeply inhale, like he wanted to, but the blond did savor the feeling as he pushed his arms through the folds of over-soft fabric, reveling in the way it ran silkily across his torso. Heh, so there was the one upside to having his shirt stolen. Wasn’t really enough to justify the experience, but it made it a hell of a lot easier to deal with, mentally.

In a not-coping way.

Meanwhile, out of his not-coping world, Dave was going back on the offensive.

In a way that may-or-may-not-have-given his fellow Glee members very mild heart attacks.

Let’s just say Sam was really glad he had been in the process of pulling the hood up over his head for comfort, hiding his face. There was also that slightly pissed teenager standing between him and anyone else, but the sweater, Sam thought, was the better mask this time.

“What if I was gay, Strando?” Dave spat, that focused calm of his coming ragged at the edges as his anger started to seep through. “Would you try to pull this crap with me?”

It blindsided Strando as much as it had the others.

And it had blindsided them a hell of a lot.

“Yeah, but you’re…” Strando trailed off, realizing his confusion was only helping Dave, and shook it off, trying to reclaim his previously cocky air. “Yeah, I would. And every other prissy-”

The moment where Dave was standing right in front of Sam to the moment where Dave had Strando halfway across the room, shoved up against the opposite row of lockers via one arm against his neck, was something Sam had missed entirely. He had the feeling he wasn’t the only one staring at the empty spot Dave had previously occupied, and he probably would have continued to do so, but his survival instincts kicked in and the blond high-tailed it to Finn and Puck as soon as the others were distracted, all the while keeping his eyes on Dave, hoping he didn’t do anything stupid.

Or stupider.

“You know what,” Dave murmured, teeth clenched and pulling off that kind of remorseless intimidating that made people remember he used to do this shit on a regular basis. “As far as you’re concerned, for the rest of the year- no, forever, I am gay.”

The other jocks were too busy staring at Dave and Strando with varying looks of confusion to disbelief to see the mildly-horrified glances Sam shared with Puck, wondering where the hell Dave was going with this, and kind of pissed that he would dare try to protect Sam this way.

Sam moved to break forward, opening his mouth to pull Strando’s attention back on him, maybe shout something about how he was still very much wearing guy-clothes, hey, wasn’t that enraging? But Puck pulled him back before he could even get two feet, planting the blond firmly between himself and Finn, shooting him a look that said the ball was in Dave’s court now, and he should respect that.

Bubkiss, Sam didn’t have to respect shit, he had-

“I am gay,” Dave repeated. “I like to make out with dudes. And you,” he shoved Strando against the metal harder, staring down at him, unimpressed and bitter. “You are nothing. You will always be nothing. All of you,” he directed this to the other jocks, still dumbfounded and lost as to what they should be doing. “Are nothing. And if you keep pulling shit like this, you’ll be ‘nothing’ in jail, or in prison, or with the snot kicked out of you by someone who takes extreme displeasure in the fact that your worthless hide is still existing.”

Damn, Dave,” Puck muttered, low enough that only Sam and Finn could hear him. The blond shushed him automatically, swiping in the direction of Puck’s arm as he kept his eyes on Dave, wondering what would happen next.

“And no matter what,” Dave continued, bringing his point home with a snarl, forearm pressing harder against Strando’s chest. “Whether I be gay, or friends with them, or friends with you, I will become something. They,” he jerked his head towards Sam and the others. “Will become something.” He stepped back, pulling his arm away and allowing Strando a moment to pull in some ragged breathes, his nose crinkling with distaste. “Which is more than can be said for you.”

Dave turned, and for a second there was a surprised look on his face, almost like he had forgotten he had an audience, but then he gathered himself, expression grim as he glared down the others. “You want to get the hell out of here?” he offered, making is sound like a generous offer, one that would not be extended twice.

Strando, being the moron that he was, didn’t take the hint. “Do you really think-?”

“Dipshit,” Dave snarled without preamble, turning back to face Strando, expression mixed between fury and annoyance that he was still having to spell it out for these guys. “All of you,” he continued, glancing at the other five. “I think I’ve had just about enough of humoring your crap. Bother me again, bother any of us again, and I will make you remember just exactly who has been running the show for the past three years.”

“But you’re-” Mark, somehow managed around the fear, sputtered. “I mean, Azimio said-”

“He’s bluffing,” Strando interrupted, attempting to sound confident, but it was clear he wasn’t entirely sure of himself.

“No,” Dave countered with a bored dismissal, giving Strando a perturbed stink-eye. “I’m a nice guy. You know that. And at this point,” he turned to stare them down slowly, sure to give each and every one of them their moment under his threatening gaze. “I believe I’ve run to the end of my patience.”

There was a brief pause where no one was sure how to respond, where the other jocks were clearly still trying to hold on to their old worldview, that Dave couldn’t still be a badass; he was in Glee, Azimio had thrown him out- and then Dave was speaking again, annoyed and angry and promising very, very painful demises should any of them refuse through the sheer force of his voice.

Yeah, Sam knew how to pick his best friends.

“Now get the hell out,” Dave spat, taking a quick, false lunge towards them, as though he were about to attack.

The room emptied in about five seconds.

It took longer for Sam to process that, and in that time Puck released a low whistle. “Damn, I wonder why I never thought of doing that.”

“That’s because you were kind of an ass Puck,” Dave muttered, staring off in the direction the jocks had hightailed it to, tension leaving him steadily until his hands were dangling loosely at his sides. “And it wouldn’t have worked. Turning against you was kind of like just deserts.”

“But what about me?” Finn asked, clearly un-happy with that implication. “I was a cool guy. Wait,” he added after a second. “I am a cool guy.”

Dave shrugged, and Sam could see now that his fingers were shaking; that he, like Sam had been, was still a little terrified with what had just happened.

“You were the leader,” Dave explained quietly. “And everyone wants to be on top, right?”

“That’s great and all,” Sam decided to cut in before they could go over their entire history before Dave had come to the bright-side. “But what the hell was that?”

“Dude, that was Dave taking care of business,” Puck replied for the jock-in-question. “How long do you think they’ll hold off?”

“No idea.” Dave shrugged again, and on closer inspection Sam could see the strain behind his eyes as he turned to stare up at the ceiling, like he was searching for strength.

Or maybe he was wishing none of this had ever happened.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Sam said, remembering the frustration from before. “I told you it was my problem-”

“Friends help friends,” Finn interrupted without a hint of shame, trying to help. It was then Sam remembered that not everyone here was totally in on Dave’s sexuality. Finn didn’t really know the depths of how much could go wrong here, how very little Dave was helping himself, and Sam couldn’t exactly tell him so-

He’d save it for later. The anger would still be there, he was sure.

The argument wasn’t going to go anywhere.

“What the hell were they doing anyway?” Puck asked, deciding that the conversation was moving on. “I mean, what we walked in on-”

“It was just morons being morons,” Sam muttered into his sweatshirt, toying with the hood’s pull strings.

He wasn’t embarrassed by what had happened, per say, he was just sort of confused as to why it happened, and at the end of the day there really wasn’t any point in spreading the confusion, right? Right. There was no need to talk about it.

He could tell they didn’t really buy it whenever he looked up, Finn’s eyebrows furrowed, confused and concerned, and Puck was suspicious, clearly displeased by Sam’s lack of sharing. The blond didn’t bother glancing at Dave, because he had a good feeling he wouldn’t be able to keep up his nonchalance if he did, so he moved on and started gathering his clothes. They had been scattered around the room in the guys’ haste to make an exit. He didn’t really blame them for it.

It made him miss the look the other three shared behind his back. He was in the middle of hunting down his other shoe, considering if it could have landed in one of the trashcans, when he felt a hand curl around his forearm.

Adrenaline- or what Sam liked to think was adrenaline- made him shake it off, and it was all he could do not to retreat in the opposite direction, mind still on track of keeping him clothed- which wasn’t unreasonable. He stayed still though- somehow, realizing that it was just Dave, and braved searching through the trashcan closest to him. He needed both of his shoes damnit, he couldn’t afford another pair.

“Sam.”

And that was it. That was all Dave said, just his name, but it was enough to stop the blond in his tracks. He risked a glance at his friend, arm clutching his abandoned belt and one recovered shoe to his chest, not- he wasn’t afraid of what he was going to see, because it was Dave. There would be no judgment from that guy, and being scared over nothing was stupid.

Once Dave decided he had Sam’s full attention, he started again, moving towards the teen in slow, deliberate steps.

Sort of like he was approaching a wild animal, Sam noted.

He also made a note to watch Animal Planet more often, because apparently that was applicable to real-life shit.

“What were they going to do?” Dave asked, voice gentle.

Sam didn’t know how to reply, because he himself hadn’t known what was going to happen. He knew the answer wouldn’t satisfy the others, but in the end it was all he had to offer.

“I don’t know,” he said, adding a casual shrug for good measure. “I don’t think they planned that far ahead.”

And if they had…

It was stupid to think about. Sam shared this much with the others.

“It’s stupid anyway,” he decided, shrugging back into care-free Sam, trying to move on. “And now it’s done, so-”

“You can talk to Miss Pillsbury, if you want, I mean,” Finn said.

Puck smacked the taller teens arm, shooting him an annoyed look (subtlety had never been Finn’s strongest suit) that Sam couldn’t help but join in.  

“Dude, I’m fine. I mean-” Sam turned towards Dave, face calm, but frantically thinking of an argument. “I was alone for what, five minutes? Six, tops? I’m pretty sure they just wanted to take my clothes because of-” he made a vague hand gesture. “Creative hazing, I guess.”

He left it to that when he finally caught sight of his other shoe nestled underneath one of the far benches, snatching up his one missing sock along the way. He took stock of his hoard briefly, categorizing all the stuff he had lost, and realized the only thing actually missing was his shirt. Strando must have taken it (the ass), but honestly, Sam wasn’t surprised by one last act of defiance. He had other shirts.

“Sam,” Dave tried again, and that was enough to strike up some real annoyance in the blond.

“I’m fine Dave,” Sam muttered, making a broad gesture across his body as though to indicate how completely safe and sound he was. “You took care of it.”

In a really, stupendously dumb way, but they would talk about that later.

He seemed to be finally breaking through to Dave who studied him, wavering in uncertainty, before nodding. “Okay,” he said at last. “If you say so.”

“I do indeed,” Sam countered, mimicking Kurt’s ‘posh’ voice. The one he got whenever he was making fun of British Television (that had been another week of forced ‘cultural-ification’). Usually it was enough to bring a smile to Dave’s face.

Today though, it only earned him a forced grin. Sam would know because it was the same look Dave got every time his mom asked him if there were any new girls he was interested in.

It wasn’t the best expression.

“Fine,” Dave replied, and if Sam didn’t know better he would think Dave was unhappy, which didn’t make sense, because he had just totally kicked ass. “And uh,” he started up again. “Rachel canceled, so…”

“Movie night!” Sam cheered.

Hell, if being harassed for a few minutes got him comfy-sweater-time and bad movie night back, Sam might actually have to hunt down Strando and thank him. “Awesome, you can ride with me and Finn.”

“’Finn and I’,” Dave corrected automatically, and for a second, it was just like old times.

Like, if old times involved forced-stripping and Hulk-smashing and having confusing arguments with idiotic people.

They would have to talk about what happened here today later, but for the moment Sam decided to just let it be, trying to savor his friendship before Dave withdrew again. Just- if that happened.

Sam would like to think it wouldn’t, but even he wasn’t that dumb.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you didn’t misplace it?”

Mike was polite enough not to voice just exactly how stupid he thought Kurt’s question was, but the look on the dancer’s face was enough of an expression in itself.

Which answered that question.

“Are you sure, Changster?” Santana asked incredulously, giving the disorganized piles of books, folders, and spirals a wary eye. “You’re not the best with-”

“I haven’t moved it,” Mike interrupted, tense, staring into his locker with a look of miserable displeasure. “It was too risky anywhere else, and I’ve checked on it everyday.”

Kurt frowned, considering the possibilities. “Are you sure-”

Yes.” The exasperation in Mike’s tone wasn’t exaggerated, and if Kurt didn’t know him better, he would think the dancer was merely annoyed, as opposed to being disappointed in himself.

Santana, realizing nothing more would be gained from her inspection, whipped her nail file back out. “I would say I was impressed with your skills in meddling, but honestly, the moment I heard about this crap I knew it had to be a set up.”

It wasn’t helpful input, but Kurt restrained himself from snapping at the cheerleader, knowing that her skills could be potentially useful in the future. If- when, this got as out-of-hand as things tended to get with them.

Kurt took a deep breath, holding it in to calm himself, and continued. “You are entitled to your opinion.”

“I mean,” Santana continued, gesturing towards Mike with her file, rolling her eyes. “We all know Male-Chang doesn’t write his choreography down. The only one stupid enough to believe that would be Sam…and Finn, and probably Sugar- whatever, point is, eventually baby bird’s going to figure out you’ve been stringing him along.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’s better this way.”

“Unless, of course, the absolute worst possible person was the one who…” Mike trailed off, looking at the bottom of his locker, bottom lip jutting out in a pathetic picture of despair.

While Santana was not known for her soft and gooey center, she tended to have a soft spot for Mike. Mostly because he had a way of keeping Brittany happy that few others every managed. Kurt had a feeling it had to do with all the gel pens. And perhaps the dancing, but he thought it was mostly the gel pens.

Santana watched Mike’s display and eventually sighed; getting a look on her face that Kurt was all too familiar with.

It expressed something along the lines of ‘Why do I deal with these people?’.

“Fine,” she muttered, mostly to herself. Kurt wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t been standing so close. The cheerio turned to face Mike. “If Zizes got you the fake floor, then maybe she decided that whatever-the-hell it was you were hiding might be worth an entertaining look-through. We might as well start with her.”

It was a definite possibility, Kurt thought. He snapped his fingers, idea dawning on him. “And since we all know Lauren’s capable of breaking into things…”

Santana smiled, looking pleased that Kurt had followed along her line of thinking, and clapped Mike on the arm. “See Twinkle Toes, it’ll be fine. And even if Zizes wasn’t interested in your, admittedly, very un-interesting life, she can probably get us a hookup with the security cameras.”

Mike frowned, following her nod towards the familiar black dome further fixed to the ceiling further down the hallway. “I thought those were just for show.”

The cheerleader shared a look with Kurt, then shrugged. “Wouldn’t put it past her to have the place rigged.” She continued at Mike’s look of doubt, “Potential blackmail material.”

She didn’t expand on this, and honestly, she didn’t need to. They both got the point.

“Fair enough,” Kurt said, just as Mike was beginning to look particularly antsy. He grabbed the dancer’s arm and began dragging him off, knowing if he didn’t take control Mike enthusiastically would, and probably just as enthusiastically lead them in the wrong direction. He had a habit of doing that, when he was upset.

Whether Santana was familiar with this or not, the Cheerio was more than happy to laugh at the action, putting forth no effort to contain how thoroughly entertaining this potential-crisis situation was.

Amateurs, Kurt thought. He was working with a bunch of untrained amateurs.

He needed to get paid for his efforts.

Or at the very least, earn some kind of community service credit.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Dave would be doing a lot better at his plan to keep an emotional distance from his current- no, his past- object-of-affection if Sam would just take his freakin’ sweater off. Dave couldn’t ask for it, because Sam had just been through a particularly harrowing experience, but that didn’t make his want for it to be nowhere near the blond any weaker.

But Sam, perfectly oblivious Sam, had yet to remove the thing. Had worn it all the way home, had kept it on when they started the movie, had made no effort whatsoever to put on an actual shirt.

If the idea of there being nothing between Sam’s bare torso and his sweatshirt wasn’t enough to make Dave loath himself with every fiber of his being with shockingly fierce pangs of want, then Dave didn’t know what was. What he did know was the he had stopped paying attention to whatever they were watching about two minutes into it in an effort to distract himself, which was hard, because Sam was stubbornly leaning against his arm and wouldn’t shut up and wouldn’t stop being adorable in an over-sized sweatshirt that his arms were too short for and that hung oddly on his neck and exposed too much and made Dave feel too much and it was awful. Awful and wonderful and sickening at the same time.

It was not Sam’s fault for any of this. And it sure as hell wasn’t reasonable for Dave to ever hold any of it against the blond in a displeased fashion, so the brunette forced himself to move on, forced himself to evaluate what had just happened.

The mental image of Sam there, pinned and helpless and exposed was enough to shake Dave out of the awe-induced fog that settled over his brain almost every time he thought of Sam and turned his focus towards more constructive purposes. He needed to think. He needed to categorize, to plan.

He wanted to know what had happened, what would have happened next.

And he very much needed to take care of Strando, which would mean possibly taking out Azimio, which was a terrifying thought onto itself.

But one thing at a time.

Categorize, plan, think.

Dave could handle this. It was a purely intellectual exercise. Mostly.

He would be the king of all liars if he tried to think the entire experience in the locker rooms hadn’t given him a heart attack. The moment Dave had entered, even before he had known there was trouble, to the moment he left, had been nothing but fiery agony for his nerves. A slow, torturous process that put every ounce of skill he had masking his feelings and needs to the accumulation of all tests.

Strando was right, Dave had been bluffing, had been piling the lies on as thick as he pleased. It had been a necessity; a desperate, clear need whenever he saw Sam…compromised like that. Whatever Strando been planning - and Dave believed Sam when he said the bully probably hadn’t thought that far – it wouldn’t have been pretty. In Dave’s opinion, Strando had always been a little shifty, a little bit off past the point of average teenage bull-headedness. In the past, it had never been too much of a problem. If anything, the guy was a hell of a funny drunk, taking the stupidest dares without batting an eye. Not because he had something to prove, but because outrageous to him seemed to be the status quo. In his opinion, they were the ones who were off.

At least, that was the feeling Dave had always gotten from him.

Before, when it was Finn holding the reigns, and then Azimio and Dave, Strando hadn’t been a threat. Couldn’t have wrangled the man-power for lackeys if he tried. But with the jock’s leadership fracturing down to just Azimio, there was opportunity for some give, and Strando’s unfortunate come to power was a result of it.

Shit, there had to be trouble brewing if Strando of all people had managed to get his own following.

It didn’t surprise Dave that the other jock’s preferred form of tormenting was grounded in nonsensical obtuseness, but for some reason Dave couldn’t help but feel like there was a personal element to this. But what, and against whom, he did not know. Like he said, sporadic chaos. The only one who would know who Strando was pissed at was Strando, and Dave honestly didn’t have the time or patience to go digging through that trove of confusion.

But back to Sam. Sam, restrained. Sam, naked. Sam being held back, concerned, maybe even scared, which resulted in Dave very effectively losing his cool.

He couldn’t even properly remember the stuff between walking into the room and throwing the last guy off of Sam, hand to God, Dave could not. To fall into the cliché, it had all been a blur of anger and fierce protectiveness, and it wasn’t until he was herding Sam out of the locker room that he had even realized he’d given the blond his sweater.

Understandable. At the time, he had more pressing worries.

The intention of ‘speaking their language’, so to speak, hadn’t been on Dave’s mind at all. It was the fury that started him down that road, the building frustration that they just didn’t seem to get it, that they were so satisfied being mindless sheep that they were going along with anything- cripes, they had stripped a guy and still called him gay – as though they were completely oblivious to the irony of their own actions.

Dave never aimed to provoke because in his experience, when he had been the bully, it had never worked. Not once had he been swayed by the courage of someone standing up to him, or allowed his better sensibilities to be pleaded to. He allowed himself to be amused, back then, or angry, because if he wasn’t one or the other he would fall into guilt or compassion and that kind of thing got you killed in his (old) social circle.

In that world, you were the man, you acted like a man, and men weren’t kind. Men established order. They had all worked very patiently to earn their place at the top of the ladder and once they got there it was their turn to dole out hell to anyone who thought they were above the system.

That was how it was then. How it was now. Dave knew that.

But he also knew, very clearly, that he used to be one of the guys that helped keep things in order. Between him and Azimio he let his friend call the shots for the majority of the time, but when it mattered, Dave stepped up, because he could.

He had liked that.

They might have tried to step up to become the bullies, but Dave had been doing it for longer and frankly, he had done it better. It didn’t hurt that the football team considered him a pretty nice guy (you know- the bullying of lesser, weaker misfits aside) and that they had actually liked differing to him. He had stayed humble (unlike Finn) and kept it cool.

It had partly been because they were his friends, but it had mostly been because if they had turned that easily on Finn and Puck of all people (who, despite his earlier referenced asshole-ness, had still been terrifying), then Dave honestly didn’t stand a chance if things ever went sour.

That had been before he had started to find the glee club secretly entertaining, and before he had truly discovered his sexuality, and before Dave was attacked with the overwhelming want and will to be friends with these people.

The way he saw it, in that split second he had of collected, rational thinking before the rage took over, was that the reason Finn and Puck (and then Sam and Mike and Matt) had fallen so quickly in the ranks of their school’s hierarchy was because they had let it happen. Morally, they had taken the high road, acting to the ideal.

Dave had stood by that plan too, more-or-less happily, up until the point where it got Sam pinned down in his birthday suit, and then he abandoned it to the wind.

Strando wouldn’t understand shame or guilt or idealism.

What Strando and his like did understand, was fear.

Dave had seen it. Had seen the doubt, the uncertainty, and he had grabbed it by its horns, yanked it where he desired, and told those dumbasses exactly what they needed to do to get out of the situation without absolute destruction.

It wasn’t the way Dave had wanted to come out, for sure. He didn’t like that he had made it more of a symbolic gesture, something that could be doubted or be taken as less genuine than it was. Telling the others to treat him like he was gay and coming right out and saying he was gay were two different things, and in this light those who knew could think of it as a cop-out. That Dave could still go around as tough and threatening as he pleased, taking up the mantle of protecting people’s choices but still living as a perceived heterosexual. Kind of. That had been the point.

He was pretty sure he would have gotten a call from Azimio at this point cursing him out if they had really thought he was gay.

It wasn’t great, but the name of the game was surviving, and Dave was good enough at that.

He was going to have to destroy those guys too, Dave realized with a small hint of guilt. If he wanted this to work more than once, he was going to have to broadcast a message so loud that even the thickest of those meatheads would understand that he was not to be messed with. That he, Dave Karofsky, was done putting up with their bullshit.

Dave would have to play it carefully so that none of the Glee kids got caught in the crossfire, but really, it would only add to his air of apathy if he went at it alone, if he showed his past friends that he felt so very unthreatened by them that he didn’t need backup, that they were nothing, and that was the way it should be.

Of course, Dave wasn’t stupid enough to actually go it alone, but as far as anyone was concerned, it was going to be Dave against the world, baby.

If that meant he had to go at it without Sam - and he would, because there was no way Sam would just happily wait on the sidelines and watch - then so be it. Dave knew what he had to do before this idea of his had fully come to fruition, and in all honesty, this would probably only help him in the long run.

He needed to fight with Sam.

Clarification - Dave needed to invent a fight with Sam. One that was large enough to keep them at odds with each other so that the blond would maintain his distance. Dave needed a fight that would be awkward to reconcile, and not entirely sincere, but would work for his purposes.

It would get the distance Dave needed, for both the protection of Sam and of Dave’s heart.

Cheesy? Yes.

Overdramatic? Who did you think he was, someone not living with the Berry family?

It was applicable, either way. Dave didn’t look forward to it, but after all he had done, after everyone he had hurt, he understood the necessity.

But first things first: enjoy the evening.

It was, after all, probably going to be the last one Dave got with Sam in polite company.

After that, he would make up the fight.

-:-:-:-:-:-

The stare Zizes graced them with couldn’t entirely be labeled as boredom per say – Kurt sensed there was at least a smidgeon of amused annoyance underneath that poker face – but it was very close. Upon finishing their rundown of the situation they were met with silence, in which, Kurt assumed, Lauren was attempting to decide whether they were worth her effort or not. Perhaps. Or maybe she was trying to convince herself this was a far-fetched illusion.

Kurt could understand that appeal.

Beside him, Mike gave off the occasional twitch, his fingers drumming restlessly against his side as the dancer failed to keep his composure under the solid stare of one Lauren Zizes. Despite his more criticizing nature, Kurt couldn’t really blame the guy; every encounter the dancer had ever faced with Lauren had never spelled out good things for him.

On Kurt’s other side, Santana was doing a very good impression of not giving a damn. Having satisfied her need for perfectly manicured nails, she had moved on to reading a magazine she had quite literally whisked from nowhere.

Eventually, when Zizes had felt she had seen all the entertainment she was going to get from a fidgeting Mike, Lauren quirked an eyebrow at them.

“Chang,” she said, releasing a disappointed sigh. “You’re a goddamn moron.”

Without looking up from her magazine, Santana pumped one fist into the air. “Preach.”

Mike would have probably looked offended, if at that moment - Kurt could tell - he didn’t completely agree with them.

But agree he did.

Years of earning a low profile created its own flavor of toll on the dancer, and they were all still trying to work around its side effects.

“Okay,” Mike said with a nod. “But did you take it?”

Lauren frowned, head tilting to the side slightly. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask that.” She leveled a glare at Kurt. “I have better shit to do with my time lady lips, so what exactly are you asking for here?”

“Cameras,” Santana cut it, clapping her magazine shut with a graceful twirl of her hands. “It’s simple, we need to find the culprit, and you have eyes in the sky.”

Movement from the corner of his eye caught Mike leaning towards Kurt, whispering quietly. “But does she actually have-”

“It’ll cost you,” Lauren was saying, talking right over Mike as though she hadn’t heard his wonderfully unsubtle stage whisper. “My services must be adequately compensated.”

“Is justice compensation?” Mike asked hopefully, but with enough of a certain timid wavering because he already knew the answer to that question. He was familiar with Zizes’ operation.

Lauren, knowing this all too well, responded with a truly devilish smile. “Nope. But hey, look on the bright side; I believe somebody still owes me some man-sex.”

At this point, Mike turned the required shade of scarlet.

“I didn’t-” he squeaked. And then, through some form of freakish happenstance, regained his composure. “Wait, you didn’t hold up your end of the deal either,” he said, squinting at her ridiculously in what Kurt supposed was his ‘intimidating’ face. “I owe you nothing.”

Zizes shrugged. “We’ll renegotiate.”

They left before further arguments could be made. A few minutes later Kurt doubled back when he realized they were down a man, and dutifully retrieved a still-sputtering Mike. The dancer made a distressed noise as Kurt dragged him down the hallway, but otherwise made no objections.

Kurt supposed it was a start.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Bad-movie night might not exactly have the same flow as it usually did, Sam guessed, but he supposed with the added hurdles of Puck (who had stubbornly tagged along), post-awkward-locker-room-hazings, and drunk-drunkedy-drunk makeouts, it wasn’t all that bad. It had definitely seen better days, but Dave was there, and he was still trading stupid theories with Sam as to why this or that random-unexplained-thing was thrown into the movie, so Sam was considering it a win.

Sure, Dave didn’t talk quite as much as he usually did, but he wasn’t all doom-and-gloom like Sam thought he would be, and it was just like old times.

At least, it almost was. Kurt wasn’t there to deliver his usual barrage of scathing comments as to why they would possibly subject themselves to this before giving that up for trying to swap out their junk food for veggie trays, because of balanced-diets and growing bodies and all that stuff. And then they’d catch him (because come on, the movie wasn’t that engaging) and then he would recruit Finn’s mom who would give them the ‘I know you wouldn’t disappoint me’ face, and before they all knew it they had cauliflower in their hands. It was like Kurt’s super power.

Thankfully, Kurt had stayed after school to help Mike out with something (or maybe Mike was just helping Kurt again, and Finn’s brother was being all proud about it) so the potato chips had gotten to stay in their rightful place.

Unless Mr. Hummel joined them. Then it would be celery all around.

Misery loved company, and all that.

It was about halfway through the movie when the very obvious ‘Do not talk about that thing’ rule, which Sam had thought they had all silently agreed to abide by, was broken. It didn’t surprise Sam that it was broken by Finn, because the quarterback pushed himself above the rules all the time whenever he thought someone needed it, but it was still annoying. They got it, Finn was the leader, great, but couldn’t they reschedule the heart-to-heart for next Thursday or something? Let movie night keep its reverence?

Dave might have objected if he had been there, but Finn had picked the moment the other teen had needed to go to the bathroom, setting a concerned, but slightly determined, look in Sam’s direction.

Finn wore it a lot, which was why it was unfortunate that it kind of made him look constipated, but just like the unspoken rules everyone else followed, Finn didn’t let it deter him.

He had even paused the movie too. Damn.

“Okay dude, we need to be serious for a second,” Finn began, mustering up as much leadership-ness as he could. On his other side, Puck made no effort to help with this cause and rolled his eyes, shoving another handful of potato chips into his mouth.

Great ambience there buddy, way to back your best friend up.

Pushing aside the sarcastic thoughts, Sam took a moment to evaluate his options. Either he could stall until Dave got back, where he could then hope his friend didn’t also feel like getting in on this ‘real talk’ action, or he could just bite the bullet and get it over with now, before Dave got back, and have a chance of recovering movie night.

Looking at it in that perspective, Sam’s choice was obvious.

With a heavy sigh, Sam leaned his head back against the seat of the couch. “Fine,” he grumbled, making a motion for Finn to get on with it.

He didn’t have to look at the Quarterback to know it wouldn’t make him happy, but Finn was smart enough (or, more realistically, could only handle) to keep on track.

“This is a safe place,” Finn continued, which was confusing for many reasons, but the greatest one being that Sam already knew that, so why was he bringing it up now? “And you need to know that if they like, did anything to you, before we got there-”

Oh, oh, now Sam got it.

The blond shook his head, waving a frantic hand to cut Finn off. “No dude, I’m fine. You saw the worst of it.”

“Are you sure?” Finn pressed. Sam could have laughed at the sincerity of it, but it was about that time he noticed Puck sitting up a bit straighter, his eyes sharp and nowhere near that perpetually bored expression he wore.

They were really worried.

“Because if they like, touched you where you didn’t want to be touched, or when you didn’t want to be touched, that’s not okay man.”

Finn finished this declaration with a nod, and refused to look away from Sam, like breaking eye contact would somehow indicate he didn’t support the blond as much.

For a moment, Sam thought it was going to left at that, that it was his turn to talk, but some idea clearly hit Finn halfway through their mini stare down, making him do a mental one eighty as he reached out to reassure Sam. “Not that like, touching dudes is bad- I mean, if you’re a dude,” Finn began to babble, words rushing out frantically. “Just that, if you didn’t want it-”

That time, Sam actually did laugh.

And then he laughed harder at the way Finn’s face got all red. “Yeah dude, I get it, there are gay guys in the world,” Sam chirped pleasantly, earning an embarrassed glare from Finn. “And while it is not a bad thing,” he agreed, maybe a little too amused. “I am not one of them. And seriously dude,” he continued, reaching up to wipe the tears out of his eyes. “They really didn’t get beyond stealing my clothes. I am okay Finn.”

There. Talking-about-that-thing-they-shouldn’t-talk-about time done. Now they could get back to the movie.

Sam set his eyes on the bag of Chex Mix lying untouched on the coffee table, contemplating how many calories it would really take him down to, when Puck let out a rude scoff, turning his eyes towards the ceiling as though he found something particularly amusing.

Sam frowned, realizing this wasn’t as over as he had thought it was. “I am fine.”

That earned him an actual bark of laughter, and even Finn was beginning to give his friend a suspicious look.

Puck, oblivious to their confusion, gave a shrug. “Not the funny part, dude.”

“Then what-?” Sam caught himself halfway through the question and snapped his mouth shut, realizing it was a trap. “Nope,” he said, narrowing his eyes at Puck. “I am onto you.”

Because there were no damns to give, Puck continued as though he hadn’t even heard Sam, “The funny part is that you think you’re straight.”

At that point Sam had to bust out the crossed arms pose, because this conversation had happened about twenty times too many for Sam’s taste, and it had never gotten entertaining.

“Come on man, keep it cool.”

“Seriously,” Puck insisted, and not even in that evil way, like when he was taunting someone, but in that half-way earnest kind of way that said he was actually trying here. “You have to at least be bi. You made out with two dudes, willingly-”

“I was drunk,” Sam insisted, his face heating up from embarrassment and shame and not from anything else.

Seriously, nothing else.

It wasn’t worth thinking about.

“Two dudes,” Puck repeated. “Will-ing-ly.”

“When the hell was this?” Finn asked, frowning at his lack of knowledge. Which wasn’t that big an issue, because Finn not-knowing things was sort of his default mode, so neither one of them bothered answering him.

“In-tox-i-cated,” Sam muttered, mimicking the way Puck had drawn the word out.

There- see, two of them could play the emphasizing words game.

Puck rolled his eyes and leveled a strong finger his direction. “You need to start embracing this blondee; if someone had told me I had the man-hots for Mike back when I was trying to figure shit out, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble.”

“I’m not you.” Nor did Sam ever want to be Puck, but the other teen didn’t allow that to deter him.

“Lot’s of trouble,” Puck repeated. “I could have made out with him that much sooner.”

“Seriously,” Finn began, looking back and forth between them frantically. “When did the makeout-thing happen? And with who?”

“I’m glad you have the hindsight to realize that Puck,” Sam replied, gritting his teeth. “But I. Am not. You.”

“No,” Puck released a tired sigh, as though he pitied Sam for this misfortune. “Because I don’t follow Dave around with these big moon eyes acting like we’re freakin’ married all the time.”

We do not do that,” Sam hissed. At Puck’s raised eyebrows he sucked in a deep breath, trying to do that calming thing all the kung fu masters preached in movies. “We’re best friends.”

“You’re married,” Puck whined. “Just do yourself a favor and realize you like making out with dudes so that you can do the fun stuff too.”

“I don’t-”

“You did.”

“I was drunk.”

“Which just takes away your inhibitions.” Puck straightened up, turning to face Sam head on as he traded in that satisfied smirk for a more serious expression. “Dude, what about this is so awful to you?”

“Nothing.” It was nothing, and this was stupid, and Sam would very much like to not-talk about it now, because it wasn’t fair to Dave. “I’m just not gay. It would be a lie-”

“Would it?” Puck countered.

“Guys-” Finn tried interrupting.

They both waved him off with equal looks of annoyance and gritted teeth.

Yes,” Sam hissed, hand clenching into a tight fist on his thigh. “Yes, it would be, because I am not gay, and I am not attracted to Dave, and you and anyone else who thinks that is stupid.”

“Are we?” Puck challenged, and Sam fought down a strangling noise because now he was just trying to be obnoxious.

“What, are you just going to question everything I say now?”

“I don’t know, am I?”

“Guys-” Finn tried again, and they turned on him simultaneously.

“What?”

Appropriately cowed, Finn pointed a wary finger over towards the doorway.

A doorway where, of course, Dave was watching the transaction, his expression unreadable as he considered each of the room’s occupants.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam wasn’t sure why he thought his luck would change at all this day, maybe he thought he was due a little bit of in-action, like, a rest period from the beating life kept throwing down on him, but he wasn’t sure why. It hadn’t seemed like a lot to ask for, all things considered. Maybe this was life’s way of trying to keep him humble, you know, keep greed at bay.

Or maybe Sam just had bad luck.

Given the past couple of weeks, Sam was willing to put money on the second option.

He mourned this briefly and didn’t put any thought into why he was kind of overreacting in the space of a few seconds, because it wasn’t like, the worst thing in the world for Dave to hear. It wasn’t like he had walked in on Sam outlining his plan for brutally murdering Dave’s family, or even making fun of the stupid foreign movies he and Rachel liked to watch so much (a rant Finn would definitely join in on, but not Puck, because Mike and Tina liked those action movies from Asian that were ninety percent ass-kicking).

And it wasn’t like Sam had been lying either, or saying stuff that Dave didn’t already know; so really, Sam’s head, that needed to get a grip. Like, about eight seconds ago. This mini-panic attack was not making any sense.

Based on the fact that no one had started shooting concerned looks in his direction, Sam guessed he had somehow managed to at least look like he was keeping his cool, even when his insides were a wibbly-wobbly mess.

Honestly, he would have liked it the other way around better. The way his stomach twisted uncomfortably certainly would, at least.

“So…” Dave began after a few minutes of tense silence. He sounded friendly, but in true Dave-fashion approached the couch area carefully, keeping an eye on them. “What are we talking about?”

“Nothing.”

It was spat out so quickly Sam almost thought the word came from him, but that was only true if Finn somehow learned how to do that creepy ventriloquist thing of throwing his voice in the past five seconds.

“I mean,” Finn tried again, when they Dave’s look of disbelief was joined by Puck’s and Sam’s. “It wasn’t important.”

“It still isn’t important,” Sam insisted, sending one last glare Puck’s way just for good measure.

He was going to have to cut that shit out before it started. They didn’t need anymore rumors, especially not in glee club, and Dave didn’t need anymore issues as it was. The thought that Sam could be the source of yet another problem for Dave was unbearable, and he wasn’t going to let Puck, who had dragged so many of them down before, strike again.

Dave deserved better.

Sam jumped up with a start, hit with a sudden rush of energy he didn’t know what to do with. “And as it will continue to be unimportant, I suggest we drop it, okay?”

Puck wouldn’t because he was Puck, but Sam had thrown together a hasty plan of retreat, and was more than willing to use it now.

“Dave,” he said, glancing over at the still uncertain teen, his eyes a painful kind of concerned. Sam pushed it down whatever feelings that look inspired and nodded his head towards the empty popcorn bowls. “Help me wash them?”

He would, because he was Dave, so Sam didn’t wait for a reply. Snatching the two big, metal bowls off of the coffee table, he charged towards the kitchen, fast enough that Puck couldn’t get in any parting shots. A few seconds later he heard Dave’s familiar footsteps fall behind him, and in silence they made it into the sanctity of the kitchen, hunching over the double sink, just like they always did.

Sure, they usually waited for the movie to be over, but bad-movie-night had sort of lost its magic the moment Puck had opened his stupid mouth.

Stupid Puck, Sam thought, squeezing a large dollop of dish cleaner sloppily into his bowl. Stupid Strando. Stupid beer.

Stupid self, Sam added, because really, he was the one to blame, and with that thought he scrubbed at his bowl a little bit harder, ignoring the way the hot water stung at his hands.

Beside him, Dave continued washing with his usual reserve, but with one eye on Sam, because that was what he did.

He looked out for people, because Dave was a good guy who would never believe he was a good guy. So you couldn’t call him out on it.

It was kind of frustrating.

“So this unimportant conversation-” Dave began.

“It wasn’t-” Sam wasn’t sure how to word this, wasn’t sure how much Dave had heard in the first place, and wasn’t sure why the hell he was so bothered by it all. “I mean, it was, but-”

“Just, take your time,” Dave suggested, supportive. “Sort it out first.”

See, it was this kind of composed and entirely helpful disposition that made Sam really mad that anyone would mess with Dave. Let alone Sam. Because of Puck- but not-

It was confusing.

Since Sam was about as good at subtlety as Artie was at dancing, he decided to take the direct approach.

“What we’re doing here…” he turned to face Dave, gesturing between them hopelessly in an effort to convey their like, entire friendship-deal. With a nod from Dave, Sam continued, “I mean, you know I’m not like-” he shrugged, feeling an incomprehensible need to turn away. He compromised by staring down at the soapy mess he’d created. “You know, like-”

“Hitting on me?” Dave offered.

Sam might have flinched at that, might have, and if he had it was small, and reflexive, and totally had to do with subconscious body reactions to stressful situations or whatever it was Kurt talked about when he criticized Sam’s fashion choices.

“Yeah.” Sam nodded absently, finding a new interest in scrubbing the already-scrubbed grease away. “We’re friends.”

“Yeah,” Dave copied his tone, quiet and accepting, and then Sam felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned obligingly, because he wasn’t a complete asshole and meeting Dave’s gaze was not a hard thing to do. He didn’t shrug away, didn’t cower, and didn’t do a million things that didn’t make sense to do that he wasn’t feeling, because none of them were things he had needed to do before, so they were things he had to do now.

This made sense. This had always, Sam thought, been a conversation they would need to have one day. It was probably a good thing they were getting it out of the way now.

“Sam,” Dave began, giving Sam that look that said I-will-be-here-for-you-whatever-the-next-thing-you-spit-out-of-your-mouth-is, so-you-might-as-well-spit-it-out-of-your-mouth.

Sam hadn’t intended for it to work this time, had even prepared himself to ignore it, to go back to cleaning, but he was just as stupid and weak-willed as he always was when it came to Dave, and the words fell out in an un-flattering tumble of messy garbage.

“You don’t think I’m attracted to you, right?”

It was weird that Sam wasn’t actually sure who he was asking the question, because his insides were still all knotted and woozy and he didn’t know why, except that maybe Puck and Strando and the rest of the school were finally getting to him- maybe Sam was actually so stupid that he could let other people convince him he was gay, because he knew he wasn’t - he wasn’t – and it was an insult to everyone who was that he ever dare to even contemplate such a thing.

Dave - who had always understood him, had always been so patient with him - didn’t bat an eyelash at Sam’s question. Didn’t look offended or surprised or disappointed, didn’t look anything at all other than his usual you-shall-be-educated face, and for some odd reason, that seemed so much worse than anything else. Like this was just like that time Sam had mixed up the words ‘obvious’ and ‘oblivious’. That hadn’t phased Dave, so why would this, right?

“No Sam,” Dave said, and to Sam’s ears it was almost slow and careful, to make sure the dumb blond didn’t get all confused again. “I do not.”

It was said with the same passionate honesty as any other declaration, because Dave did not lie to Sam. He and Sam were bros, partners-in-crime, best friends, and none of those things ever lied to each other.

Sam had his answer. His fears had been consoled.

His body didn’t get the memo to stop feeling awful though, but Sam figured that just came with the territory of being a really stupid person.

Chapter Text

In what was one of the more fortunate turn of events for Mike, Zizes had volunteered to review the footage to find the culprit. Sitting and watching weren’t the most difficult of skills, but even in his desperate need to find the culprit, Mike knew he wouldn’t have had the attention span to do a proper job of it. Kurt might have, and Santana had openly scoffed at the idea of watching borings hours of nothing, thanks, but in the end Zizes had offered it as part of her end of the deal.

Due to some rather stubborn haggling on Kurt’s part, Mike’s payment turned out the be about ten minutes of making out with Puck and a little frontage action, so at least Mike got to keep his clothes on while he was whoring himself out for someone’s viewing pleasure.

He wasn’t bitter about the price, because he would have done a lot worse, but he really wished Lauren would figure out who the hell had stolen the notebook so he could go all psycho-Asian on their ass. He knew he was capable of it now, he could do it again. When all else failed, he would go for the throat.

People tended to be just a little more cooperative when their immediate capacity for breathing was hindered.

It still bothered him that even though Mike had checked on the stupid thing once a day, there were still plenty of hours in-between those checks, which meant plenty of hours for Zizes to sift through in not-as-much free time, leaving him with a very unpleasant waiting game.

Meaning Mike was holding it together about as well as his naturally-prone-to-anxiety disposition led him to be, which was not at all, with all the suspicion of the world around him. Literally anyone could have taken the notebook just to fuck with him, and since the only people who would have bothered for such a thing were invested in his emotional status, it kind of felt like a betrayal. Which added to the nerves. Which added to the random flip-outs on people.

Santana was kind enough to play as a buffer, and Kurt was good enough to smooth over the conversation and monopolize Mike’s free time with excuses of ‘needing to study’ or ‘rehearse’ or ‘upgrade Mike’s wardrobe’ (the last of which he had actively tried to accomplish, but Mike retained enough of his bearings to know his shoes were kickin’).

It was working, but Puck and Tina were beginning to have their suspicions, and if Mike missed out on lunch with the false-promise of couple-time later someone was going to do some face-punching, and it would probably be Tina. Puck would probably even let her, that was how off Mike had been acting.

But it was fine, he’d be fine. The light at the end of the tunnel was coming fast; Lauren had called them to the AV lab promising news. So here he was, Kurt by his side, a less-amused Santana on the other, waiting for Lauren to quit with her stupid ‘last minute reviews’ and put an end to his frickin’ misery already. He needed to know.

And if Kurt said, “There, there” one more time and tried to give his arm a few consoling pats he was going to be on the end of some mad-Mike-stranglings and so help him, he would not let Santana pull him off the fashionista until he was too stupidly unconscious to patronize his frantic ass.

He didn’t even care that Kurt had been the best bro to him at this point, that’s where Mike was with his-

Mike didn’t register the shove until the back of his head made contact with the lockers, pain blossoming in his back, the top of his skull, and the spot on his shoulders where he had been so roughly grabbed and hurled to the side.

Reflex had a fist shoved up in front of him for protection, ready to block, as his brain, eight steps behind the present, tried to catch onto what was happening.

And then there was a livid Sam Evans yelling in his face, which explained why Santana hadn’t moved to intercept the blow.

She hadn’t expected it.

“You son of a bitch!” Sam jabbed a finger roughly against Mike’s chest, the dancer too startled to try and block it. “You’re such a- you stupid, you’re stupid, a stupid son of a bitch!”

“I believe we got that part,” Kurt said, and for all the world it was snarky, but his arms were held up warily in a clear effort to keep the situation contained.

It would probably be working better if he didn’t look like he wasn’t exactly sure how to accomplish this.

“Fuck off!” Sam snapped, eyes narrowing in Kurt’s direction, hand still gripping Mike’s t-shirt. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“You better check yourself Grouper Mouth,” Santana hissed, the first one to recover from Sam’s outburst. “These are your homeboys here, and you definitely don’t want to get on my bad side.”

Sam’s other hand moved to fist the front of Mike’s shirt, as though he was considering throwing the dancer again. “This doesn’t concern you Santana,” Sam muttered, eyes flashing in her direction- pained, now that Mike got a good look at them, angry and hurt and simmering in rage. The grip tightened. “Unless you were in on it too.”

“In on what-?” Mike began to ask, but Sam was shouting again.

“Did you know too?” he asked, breathing harshly through his nose as he tried to control the whatever that was raging inside. It was so much more than anger. “Who else knew?” He turned towards Mike at that point, eyes flickering to Kurt and back again.

At this distance, Mike had a perfect view of the blond’s flushed cheeks, his eyes shining, moist and wet, but not crying.

Sure as hell not crying.

“Sam.” Mike very slowly moved to grab one of the other teen’s wrist, maybe to shake him off, but mostly to try and ground him. “Just-”

Shut up,” the blond ordered, roughly shaking him off. Then his head swiveled towards Kurt in a rough jerk, eyebrows furrowed. “I mean, Kurt I’d expect this kind of thing from. I don’t like it, thought maybe he wouldn’t do it to me, and it kind of hurts, but I’m not surprised by it.” He looked back at Mike, and the not-crying thing was potentially going to be a losing battle. “But you- I trusted you Mike. We’re friends.”

For a furious second, Mike thought he was about to get thrown again, but instead Sam decided to let him go, shaking his head in a disbelief so pure it hurt Mike inside, and he still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.

He had a feeling, but he really, really was hoping life would be kinder than that.

“I supported you,” Sam spat, looking at Mike with disgust. “I helped you. Wanted- tried to help you, and this is the shit you try to pay me back with?”

“It’s not like that Sam,” Mike said desperately, imploring, begging. Whether this was about what he thought it was or not, he did know that nothing he did or would ever do would be with the intention of hurting his friend.

“No,” Sam scoffed, all sarcasm and pain and wanting. “No, you’re not being an ass, you’re just helping. You’re helping me from hurting myself or causing a scene or doing whatever it is stupid people do because lord knows they can’t just be left to their own devices right? That’s what I am now, a hazard to myself?”

“Sam-” Kurt tried this time, seeing that Mike was spent. He was, he was done, he was just as broken as Sam was because he knew, they all knew, Kurt and Santana’s matching looks of fucking unfortunate knowing realized it and it was so much worse than he had thought it would be.

He had no idea how the blond could have figured it out.

No,” Sam interrupted him with a firm shake of his head, raw hurt in his tone. “No. Dave told me, he told me the truth and you all, and he-

The humiliation of Sam’s face was astoundingly pure, with an added hint of self-loathing that he couldn’t completely stop the tears that stubbornly fell.

He,” Sam tried again, subconsciously wrapping his arms around himself. “And you, all of you,” he amended. “We are not friends. We’re not- we’re done. Done. So you can stop your stupid act with the notebook and you can stop humoring me and you can just-”

He cut off, scrubbing an angry hand across his face and glaring down at the ground, hating them, hating this.

It hurt Mike more than he could have ever thought possible.

“Just stop,” Sam muttered, when he got the bearings to look at them. “Just leave me alone.”

With that, he turned on his heel and strode down the hallway, shouldering anyone who was unfortunate enough to get in his way.

There were a few seconds of silence where they stared down the hall, at where he had disappeared from view. It was awful, terrible, worse than the previous week had been and more, and then Mike shook himself out of his haze, pushing aside his stupid feelings and moving to charge after Sam, because he wasn’t going to let things end like this.

He had taken one step - one determined, mighty step - before he was yanked back once more, but this time by a feminine (if less delicate) hand.

Santana looked at him reproachfully. “You really think he’s going to listen to you stilts?”

“He-” Mike narrowed his eyes, shaking the hand off. “I’ve got to try.”

“No, she’s right,” Kurt said, and it was the way his voice sounded so remorseful, so freakin’ sick of that fact that kept Mike standing there. “He’s not in any state to hear us out.”

More silence, more frustration, more hesitation and nothing and none of them knowing what to do. Waiting, Mike hated it. It was probably deserving then, that he should be stuck with another round of that after what-

But he had only been trying to help.

“Well,” Mike muttered, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat, not at all feeling the sorrow he didn’t deserve to feel. “I guess we know who has the notebook then.”

“Not exactly.”

Mike turned, startled that he would miss Lauren’s entrance, and stared at her with wide eyes. He didn’t speak, but Kurt did that for him, because he had enough shit thrown at him in life that he could keep himself together after being put through the wringer.

“You’ve found out who it was then?”

The bespectacled teen tilted her head to the side, thoughtful, then shrugged. “Not exactly. But I can say that it wasn’t anyone we know. And trust me,” she said before they could cut in and ask. “I know way more people than you losers.”

“You should take a look at them then,” Kurt said, nodding to Mike and Santana. “See if we can get any clues.”

“‘You?” Mike asked, quoting the other teen’s words. “Don’t you mean-?”

I have some questions I need to ask a certain David Karofsky.” Kurt declared. Then he held up a hand, silencing the question Santana was about to ask. “And no, you can not come with me. I believe I’ll be a bit more effective alone.”

“If by effective, you mean ‘Bitch-pants McCrabby’,” Santana said, familiar with Kurt when he could get on a tirade. “Then by all means, he’s yours.”

“Thank you,” Kurt said, nodding slowly. He didn’t look exactly grateful, but in this situation, none of them were going to be.

Mike stared after him as he went to hunt down Dave, hoping that whatever this was, whatever was going on…

That Dave hadn’t turned on them.

After everything they had done- after Dave had helped him- Mike wasn’t sure he could stand it.

And he knew for a fact that Sam wouldn’t be able to either.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“David.”

“Kurt.”

Well, this was going better than expected.

They had only exchanged two words, but neither one of them had been less-than-pleasant derogatories about one’s depth of character in light of harder times, so it could be said that it was going optimistically well.

Then again, sometimes Kurt needed a little momentum before he really got going, so there was a chance that Dave was calling it to soon.

“I think we both know why I’m here,” Kurt continued, tone crisp and disapproving. He waited after that, letting the silence draw on until Dave got too uncomfortable and had to fill the void - a guilt trick - but in this instance, it would not work. Dave wasn’t Mike or Finn; Dave knew what he had done and why he had done it.

He didn’t need to explain himself.

But it was easier to avoid prompting whenever you were occupied, so Dave simply continued sorting through the mountain of papers strewn across the floor, organizing them into piles next to their appropriate folders.

It might take him a bit, Sam had been…pretty impassioned at the time.

But as that was the point, Dave refused to let the sorrow gripping at his heart broadcast more than the dull ache he had felt ever since movie night.

The deed was done. It was with purpose.

It was never going to happen anyway.

Aside from cleaning, which was a welcome, but unforeseen distraction, Dave had been waiting in the Choir Room for Kurt’s arrival. It was always going to be Kurt, he figured. Santana might have come in to chew him out, as she had promised, but Kurt would have manipulated and compromised until he was the first one to take his swing at Dave. He would reason, he would goad, he would attempt to sway the jock’s feelings with quotes and logic and when that failed, passion, but Dave was onto his game. He knew his number.

Santana he could fend off later, once he got his crew in place for taking over the social hierarchy. She would understand then.

Kurt would never know.

The other teen shuffled into Dave’s peripherals, toeing at some of the stray papers carelessly, a flashback to so many weeks ago. It hurt to think about. “I would say it looked like Mike had come through here, but seeing as he’s been with me-” -and how Sam wouldn’t shut up to anyone about how he and Dave were rehearsing today- “I going to have to say this was Sam’s handiwork.”

Dave didn’t answer. It was rhetorical question anyway, but even if he had taken the prompt for what it was, he didn’t have anything to say.

Nothing beyond that which would get Kurt off his back.

Knowing the other teen wouldn’t stop until he at least had something, Dave shrugged his shoulders.

“I didn’t want to lie anymore,” he said.

Or, he did; but just about different stuff. That was an important note.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“Oh- dude,” Sam was saying, cutting off a string of laughter at Dave’s pathetic dancing skills, eyes lighting up with excitement as he was struck with a sudden idea. “You know what we haven’t worked on in forever?” He didn’t even bother waiting for Dave to try and guess, excitement overwhelming the small courtesy. “ Our notebook case! We totally need to like, recap our last clue runs and brainstorm and stuff-”

“Sam,” Dave said, quietly, heart sinking when he realized now would be the point where he’d have to end it.

He really didn’t want to, even after that drastic night at Finn’s house, he was that sad, but he had to, he had to. The sharks were circling closer. They knew there would be blood in the water soon. Sam needed to be safe.

And Dave needed him not nearby anymore. It made it harder not to lov-

Not to like him.

It was easier to hate someone when they weren’t around constantly reminding you how wonderful they were.

“I know things have been crazy,” Sam was saying, missing Dave’s interruption in his excitement. “And we have tests and projects and Nationals coming up, but I think if we manage our time wisely we can still get to the bottom of this thing, I mean,” he looked at Dave, his smile brilliant in collusion, because it was just between the two of them, and it was special. “We can’t let Mike down, right?”

“Sam-”

“And if we really buckle down- hell, we could just have an intervention and put everyone in the same room, right? Then the culprit will have to come out. We’ll probably sing a song or something too, then we can call it a day-”

Sam.”

“Yeah?” the blond stopped mid-ramble, smile bright and cheerful, eyes eager for what Dave had to say. “What is it?”

Dave’s throat thickened for not particular reason, and he took a moment to clear it, turning away from the genuine earnestness. When he turned back, his face was serious.

“I don’t…We don’t need to look for the notebook.”

Sam, not missing a beat, laughed at him. “Don’t give up hope now Dave, we’re so close.”

“It’s not that,” Dave insisted.

It was then that some of the joy began slipping from Sam’s face, confusion setting in with a furrowed brow and uncertainty, which Dave knew Sam hated, which made this all the more unpleasant.

The thickness in Dave’s throat returned for a few seconds, but he powered on, knowing he had to get this all out before he changed his mind.

“I mean, with everything going on…we’re both so busy,” he forced a disappointed sigh, reaching up to scratch the back of his head casually, in a ‘what can you do?’ kind of way. “We don’t need to search for it,” Dave repeated. “Because it was…this whole case was sort of…made up.”

Dave could tell the words registered immediately, but the immense faith Sam had placed in Dave was refusing to acknowledge the true implication, the depths they could lead to, so Dave took that as his cue to keep going, layering on the patronizing douchebag.

“We made it up,” Dave explained, talking down to Sam slowly – in a way that made his gut clench. “I thought it would be fun, you know, a cool thing we could do together.”

“Made it up?” Sam echoed, blinking rapidly. “What do you mean-? Mike was the one that lost his notebook.”

He said it in a way that was definitive, establishing a rule by which they had followed their investigation.

Dave shook his head, shattering Sam’s belief into a million pieces. “I asked him and Kurt to help out.”

Sam floundered, visibly, unsure how to take this. It was a moment Dave had been waiting for, when he could go in for the kill. At this point, things could still be salvageable.

He needed them to not be.

Keeping the act up, Dave began to look appropriately embarrassed on Sam’s behalf, shoving his hands into his pockets bashfully as he put on a show of trying to phrase something delicately.

“You know how you…” Dave shrugged, like he found it endearing, and he had practiced this about twenty times at the Berry’s so why should it be so hard now? “You get, sometimes? A little bit…” he made a vague, dismissive gesture; letting Sam decide for himself what it truly meant.

The blond interpreted it accordingly, and with no amount of pleasure.

“A bit what?” he asked, voice wavering slightly. “A bit dumb?”

“No, no, not at all,” Dave replied, words comforting and tone confirming it was exactly like that. Because that was how douchbags were. “You just get a little enthusiastic sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” Sam echoed, eyes narrowing.

“Yeah,” Dave smiled, deliberately missing the looming threat. “And I thought if we didn’t get a case you would, you know, go out and find one and that could have led to…” Dave trailed off, looking to the side pointedly and smiling to himself, like he was glad he had dodged that bullet.

He hated himself so much right now.

“So we made up a case!” Dave declared, smiling. “And we got to interrogate people, that was cool, right? And-”

“Are you saying…?” Sam’s body had gone completely tense, his fists curling tight against his side as he stared at Dave with watery eyes, lips curled into a sneer, communicating the deepest of betrayals. “Do you think I’m a joke?”

“That’s not what I said Sam,” Dave said, but the unspoken words of ‘Stop being dumb, Sam’ and ‘Stop making a big deal out of nothing, Sam’ were very much heard.

By the way the blond’s eyes widened, clearly surprised by the statement, and looked away. If Dave read his expression correctly, he would guess that Sam had just had a very private epiphany, like he was going through all of their past interactions and trying to figure out if their relationship had always been like this.

Dave didn’t know what Sam would find. Part of him hoped the other teen would see through his bullshit. The stubborn part, the part that still wanted.

When Sam whirled back around, eyes blazing, Dave knew that wasn’t the case.

His manipulation had worked.

“Go to hell!” Sam yelled, shoving an angry finger in his direction before stalking over to their backpacks, grabbing his off of the floor.

“Sam-”

“Don’t patronize me you son-of-a-bitch,” the blond snapped. “I thought we were friends.”

He shoved his arms through the straps, setting the bag onto his back roughly as he threw another glare Dave’s way. “But you…” Sam trailed off, still wreaking of hurt and betrayal and pain and it was everything Dave could do not to fall apart at the seams, not to get on his knees and beg for Sam to let him take it all back.

“You’re just the same asshole you’ve always been,” Sam muttered. He turned to leave but paused, considering for a second, then whipped back around, reaching for Dave’s backpack. He tore it open with no finesse, fueled by anger and impulse, and grabbed a handful of folders, whipping them into the air without a second thought and dumping Dave’s backpack onto the ground without a second glance.

He didn’t look behind him as the papers rained down to the ground, didn’t look at the mess he had created or the ex-friend he had left behind, didn’t turn to give one last hurt glance, didn’t say one more word.

He was done with Dave.


It was done.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“I came clean,” Dave repeated, keeping his eyes stubbornly focused on the papers in his hands. The wound was still fresh. Even if it was self-inflicted, the raw bleeding ache of it wasn’t going to end anytime soon. There was so much of Dave that wanted to escape from here, to separate himself from these feelings he had always known – deep down – would never be reciprocated.

Dave was the exception to the rule. Sam was not.

Sam would never have wanted him.

This had been inevitable.

Kurt, for once, didn’t push the issue. Didn’t stay to lecture or confront Dave about his choices, didn’t try to pick and peck away at the jock because he realized something fowl was afoot. He’d probably figure that out later, when the simple act of Dave revealing a lie was exposed as something more vindictive than it ever should have been under normal circumstances.

That was, if Sam ever spoke to him again.

It was highly likely, they did live together, after all, but it would take some time, Dave supposed. It would hopefully be enough.

Dave didn’t say, “It wouldn’t have worked” and he didn’t say “Why’d you let me try?” and he didn’t say “Didn’t you try this kind of crap once? Didn’t that fail? Why did I even bother?”

He didn’t say any of these things, though he meant every word of them.

He wanted to change back into old-Dave. It wasn’t a pain-free existence, but the aches were different and more bearable, and at least gave a feeling they were within his ability to manage.

These things now though…it was like trying to cup water in his hands.

It just kept slipping through the cracks.

Chapter Text

Sam had never been under the illusion that he was some kind of genius. He knew he was dumb. He knew he liked science fiction too much and tried too hard to memorize made up languages and his love of painting anything rivaled that of the average elementary school student in both passion and skill, which should be worrying, but he honestly stopped caring a while ago about what should or should not be forbidden because life was short. The way he saw it, if he found people that actually cared about him, it wouldn’t matter. If he got a super-best-friend-partner-in-crime, what was a little finger painting every now and then? Or a marathon of Star Trek movies? What was acting like a fool if the audience could only support him?

It shouldn’t surprise him that the answer was, ‘a lot’. A lot in a bad way, in a way that unleashed an attack on Sam’s insecurities in a direction he wasn’t looking, too protected, too happy, so sure he was fine. He left himself wide open, practically begging to get hit, right here, he might as well have taken the betrayal knife from Karofsky and done the deed himself.

Karofsky. Not Dave, not anymore. That guy was – had always been – Karofsky. Too smart and too cool and too guilty to tell Sam just to back off, so he tutored him and kept him out of everyone else’s hair, because Karofsky might be an ass but he knew about paying his penance. And the fact that it was- that he had chosen to do it by way of Sam-

It hurt, okay? Take a sack of bricks, smash it against his chest and then mock unmercifully at the pitiful heap of weeping human on the ground, hurt, and what was worse, he had no one but himself to blame for it.

And it wasn’t just Da- Karofsky. It wasn’t just him and his generosity and his babysitting and his picking sides- it was the whole damn Glee club. They had to know. They had to have seen what Dave was doing and not one of them had said anything because Sam was getting taken care of. No one had to worry right? Because Sam had a guardian to keep him from doing stupid stuff so the rest of them didn’t have to sweat it, no really, Karofsky had this, don’t worry guys.

It made Sam wonder why Karofsky had even jumped ship from the jocks at all. If he was still awful, what was the upside of being awful with the Glee club? What, did he want to get bullied too? Maybe he liked pain? Who knew?

Or maybe it was a self-preservation thing, like he was afraid the whole ‘Dude who likes kissing other dudes’ issue might come out and he didn’t want to be completely murdered by his immediate social circle.

That sounded more like Da- Karofsky. He was a smart guy, he needed protection. Why not pay it forward?

But why had he-? That thing, in the locker room, with Strando? Why do that? Why make a big speech? Why fight? Why stick up for Sam? His dept couldn’t have been that great, everyone would have said he had already gone above and beyond the duty (they took a freakin’ vote man and Dave was in easily), so why do that?

Sam couldn’t really wrap his head around it. He had thought that maybe Dave – shit – Karofsky, had been doing it for him, ‘cuz it was creepy and awful and compromising, but it hadn’t…

He didn’t even like Sam all that much. He just liked that Sam knew his secret and wasn’t a tool about it.

And it was so clear, in the way he- Karofsky- the asshole- loved hanging out with Rachel and Blaine, or Quinn, or even Artie and was so happy because he got to have intelligent conversations with the best of the rejects, which must have been wonderfully refreshing because of having to deal with Sam all the time, and they would probably pat his arm and shake their heads consolingly, because they didn’t want to deal with Sam either.

When the not-tears started pricking at the corner of his eye, and Sam not-wiped at them angrily for the audacity to not-exist, the blond would think, not-depressed or sad or whatever, that maybe he was overreacting.

But he couldn’t be, he couldn’t because Karofsky was an ass but he didn’t lie, and if he didn’t lie then the others had seen and let it happen, and maybe it had always been happening it was just with different people and it left Sam awful and twisted and lost inside.

He didn’t understand any of it anymore- and a bitter part of him marveled about how surprising that was and another part of him just wanted to cry, because he was a stud and he shouldn’t have these issues- Finn was stupid too, and he had an awesome girlfriend and people didn’t lie to him all the…goddamn time…

But they did.

It wasn’t an epiphany so much as an acknowledgement of something Sam had always known, but never bothered to draw a parallel to. People tricked Finn all the time. Just like they lied to Brittany and (sometimes) manipulated Puck and the rest of them didn’t ever really care because they were too dumb to notice it, but they were happy, right? Like, Puck had a boyfriend and a girlfriend who adored the hell out of him. Finn worshipped Rachel, and as scary as she could be sometimes and as fast as she spoke and used way too many words Sam didn’t know, she was nice to him, and thoughtful. And Brittany had Santana wrapped around her little finger, and she was the dumbest of them all, and that was coming from freakin’ him.

So why was Sam getting shafted? Why was he the joke in all this?

Maybe they hadn’t thought Dav- Karofsky, had meant to be mean, maybe he had fooled them too and Sam wasn’t that stupid, they wouldn’t have- would they have? Sam didn’t even know anymore. He said that right? Forgive the repetition; he wasn’t that bright, he needed it to remember shit.

And worst of all, he wasn’t even sure who he could ask to find out.

The others…they had betrayed him, maybe. Or this was just the first time he’d noticed it. Who was he supposed to ask that wouldn’t just spew out more lies to keep him happy, that wouldn’t get him all turned around with words he didn’t know or concepts that were just too much for him? There wasn’t one of them that would rather give it to him straight than try to spare his feelings, he guessed, which his stupid brain should have probably realized was a form of generosity, that they cared, but he was too bitter and too angry and too dumb to appreciate it.

None of them would tell him the truth. The way he could get any answers was if he asked someone who didn’t give a damn about his feelings- or even better- someone who didn’t like him at all, because they had nothing to lose. Could only gain from his suffering.

Sam’s first thought was to go to Zizes, because she didn’t give a shit. All he had to do was guilt Kurt into making those fancy chocolate tart things (and at this point, that would be about as hard as glancing in the other teen’s direction) and he would have a suitable payment for his request. Sam was all for turning towards Zizes.

The fact that she was in the Glee Club now was what made him stop.

It was stupid (so it was appropriate), but the fact that she was one of them now just- she couldn’t be trusted either, right? Just look at Santana. She was badass and mean and welcomed him back to McKinley with a list of insults she had specifically been saving for him, she hated everyone, but she lied to Brittany consistently. The blonde was her soft spot.

And Sam might not be that for Zizes, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to risk it when it came to reevaluating his world view.

He needed another option.

He needed someone outside the glee club. Someone that hated him. Someone who had been as betrayed by Karofsky as Sam had.

With those qualifications in mind, there was really only one option.

A potentially-suicidal option, but an option.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam cornered Azimio in the same locker room where he had his rather invasive strip-down just a few days prior, the other jock busy cleaning out his locker without one of his new wingmen hanging around. You could do that, when you were top dog. There was no fear of attack or potential threat when you were the one in charge of doling out the punishments.

He considered turning around, briefly, wondering if this was even worth it. A voice that sounded suspiciously like Dave’s reminded him the danger of making hasty decisions after emotional events, but the overwhelming feeling of sickness that followed drowned out the advice. Ultimately, that made his choice for him. Sam didn’t have to listen to Dave- Karofsky, anymore. Especially not imaginary ones.

The only person whose opinion mattered around here was his, and he – not swayed by emotions or whatever – was going to go talk to Azimio. Because he could. Sam could do that. He had stood up to Karofsky that one time, back when he was still being an asshole (or, an overt asshole) and lived to tell the tale, this was nothing. The Sam that did that could just as easily do this. All he had to do was take a few steps forward. Four max. Right, left, right, left.

Right. He could do this.

…he still hadn’t moved.

It almost came as a relief when Azimio started the conversation, disgusted sneer firmly planting itself on his face when he glanced in Sam’s direction.

“What the hell do you want, fairy?” he snapped, taking a break from carelessly shoving his clothes into his backpack. “Hoping you’ll get a peak of this?”

He gestured down with his free hand loosely, and Sam didn’t bother trying to hide his own disgusted expression because seriously ew- just no. He had better taste than Azimio.

If he had to choose a guy, that was.

“Still straight,” Sam answered, almost smiling at the glower it earned him. “And for the love of God, please keep your pants on.”

For a second it looked like Azimio was wavering between being offended and just not giving a shit before the latter won out by a landslide. “Whatever,” the other teen snorted. “At least you have the decency to keep your faggy shit to yourself.”

“Uh…thanks?”

Sam wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that. It wasn’t really a compliment, but it was more than anything else he had ever gotten from Azimio.

Azimio shot him an annoyed look. “Fuck off.” Before Sam could throw back some of the hate (because he was more than capable of that, right now), Azimio continued, “Now what the hell does your dumbass want Evans? Spit it out before I get bored.”

Sam considered arguing, that the locker room was free to all, but even the other teen, as lousy as he knew Sam, would recognize it as the lie it was. Sam had been avoiding the locker room ever since Strando’s insanity, and even if Azimio didn’t know that, Sam wasn’t exactly subtle with his awkward, I-need-to-have-words-with-you posture.

He was pretty sure either Dave or Rachel came up with that title, which made it all the more important for him start forgetting it.

He wasn’t sure what made it so hard though.

“I uh…have a question about Karofsky,” Sam mumbled, looking anywhere but Azimio.

It didn’t stop him from feeling the glare burning into the top of his head, but it was nice to pretend he didn’t.

Azimio scoffed. “You’re friend now,” he muttered. “Why don’t you ask him?”

“Because you’ve known him longer,” Sam snapped, finding his courage and finally meeting the other teen’s eyes. “And he’ll just lie to me.”

“Dave doesn’t lie.”

Azimio looked about as surprised as Sam did at his automatic reply, like he hadn’t even thought about it before he spat out the words. The shock lingered for an instant, and then he was back on his A-game, staring Sam down, hard. “Look, he’s your stupid friend now; you deal with him.”

“Look, could you just-” Sam tried to not sound as honestly desperate as he felt, still a little shaken from how sure Azimio had sounded, how he didn’t lie. “Did he ever betray you?” Sam asked, trying not to plead, but knowing he was. “Like, do something to spare your…feelings, that wasn’t…you know, good?”

The words hung there for an uncomfortably long time, and Sam did not fidget- he didn’t- and he didn’t stare down at his shoes and he did maintain eye contact because he was not a reject and he needed to know. He needed to know and read and see and he couldn’t do any of those things if he was too busy being a coward who stared down at the ground.

His courage earned him what would best be described as a look of disbelief, but more in Sam’s ability to function as a human being than in what he had actually said.

Azimio gave him a look. “Are you serious Evans? Damn,” he let out a low whistle, looking off to the side. “You’re retarded.”

Sam could feel the heat rising to his cheeks, embarrassed and mad because he had meant before Dave had joined the Glee club and Azimio knew it.

“I’m not-”

“Nope,” Azimio waved a hand, indicating how much he didn’t care. “I tell you what; I’m feeling generous, so I’ll go ahead and spell it out for your dumbass.” He looked at Sam, making sure he had the supposedly brain-damaged teen’s full attention before continuing. “Here’s how I figure it. Dave, he’s a good guy. He tries to be tough, but at the end of the day, he’s a good person. So as pissed as I am that he jumped ship to deal with you losers, it wasn’t all that surprising because really, Dave’s always had a soft spot for lost causes.”

“We’re not-”

“Please Evans, like you think any differently?” Azimio challenged, raising his eyebrows. “Face it, Dave took you and your little team on as a charity case. And I’m guessing, by the pitiful puppy-dog face that you’re sporting there? That you just figured that out.” There was a look on his face, something like gloating that transformed into full-blown laughter, making Sam feel lower than- he hadn’t thought it could be done.

“I mean Jesus, Evans,” Azimio chirped, looking pleased with himself. “Do you think he actually liked you? Any of you? He just felt bad for you. You’re such a loser that Dave couldn’t stand kicking you down anymore, you just don’t put up a fight-”

“Shut up,” Sam muttered, fist shaking against his thigh. Azimio’s smile widened.

“I mean, I thought at first you had infected him with your gay right?” Azimio offered, raising his eyebrows. “That he was too naïve to see what you were doing, but Dave man, he just went soft.” He laughed again, when he finally looked back at Sam, his eyes were victorious. “But now I see that even he knew you were worthless.”

The other teen turned back towards his locker, a new cheer to his movements. “Sucks that we lost him, but I guess,” he threw one last smile at Sam, feeling generous. “I guess he knew what he was doing all along.”

The locker closed with a hefty slam that the blond barely recognized, his hands moving to grip tightly at the straps of his backpack, not even phased when Azimio shouldered past him, shoving the other teen aside with the rough grace of a bulldozer. Sam barely felt the impact as his back hit the lockers, still lost in thought, resolutely not looking at Azimio’s jaunty walk, like he owned the whole world and then some.

He didn’t register it at all. His knees buckled under him, suddenly weak, and he slid down until he was an uncoordinated heap on the floor, staring blankly into the distance, wondering.

He had wanted answers, hadn’t he?

He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, exactly, but answers…

Answers he got.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Kurt didn’t so much as barge into the room as the door exploded out of his way in a pitiful attempt to avoid his wrath, and the time between it slamming against the opposite wall and ricocheting back into its frame was enough for Kurt to charge in with forceful strides, face flushed and expression that familiar looked of determined fierceness.

Suffice it to say, he had adequately captured their attention.

At least, he had Mike’s.

“Damage control people,” Kurt hissed, glancing at the door with narrowed eyes and forsaking the world it hid beyond it. “I have no idea what the hell is going on, but I think it is very much necessary right now.”

He held up one hand, the other reaching to massage his temple as he released a slow and shaky breath. “And if either one of you so much as considers muttering something along the lines of ‘no shit’-”

“You will go Psycho-Chang on our collective asses,” Santana finished, having the decency to look like she was considering this threat carefully. “Fine,” she sighed, sharing a look with Zizes. “We’ll behave.”

“Is this about Fish Lips’ little temper tantrum?” Zizes asked from her spot in front of the computer, eyebrow cocked in interest. “I must say, I’m impressed blondee could manage the mental capacity for that much rage.” She mock-applauded. “Bravo.”

“Not now Zizes,” Kurt muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose in an obvious effort to calm himself. “The things we witnessed today have to be the results of undisclosed, and probably severe, circumstances.” He brought his hand down and stared at them, eyes bright. “And we sure as hell are not going to let things settle as is so those two,” he made a vague hand gesture in the general direction of the door, “idiots can force themselves into endless loops of depression. Not while we can help it.”

Good, Mike thought, Kurt had moved into his determined, any-nonsense-and-I-will-smash-you frame of mind that Mike had learned to covet long ago. At least, when it was on his side. In the right hands, the pure force of Kurt was an unrelenting and dependable ally, and as desperately as Mike wanted to know what Dave had said to bring Kurt to this, there was still a huge measure of comfort that came from Kurt deciding to take action. Once he got on track, he wasn’t going to stop, which meant that plans would be involved and Mike wouldn’t have to spend the rest of his senior year feeling like the major heal that he was.

God bless that man on a mission.

Zizes took a moment to consider this statement, head tilted to the side, eyes half-closed in a look of boredom. Eventually she shrugged, then turned back to the screen. “Normally I would tell you to take your stupid emotional issues and shove it, but since I’m trying out this teamwork business again, I suppose I could help you with your little dilemma.” She shrugged again. “At least for Trout-Mouth; that guy’s not so bad.”

“Brilliant,” Kurt muttered between clenched teeth, frowning at the backhanded offer. “But before we get to that, what did you find?”

Santana scoffed. “That, would be an entirely new rabbit hole we fell down.”

Kurt turned a blank look towards Mike. “Could you elaborate?”

Mike fought the urge to fidget under his hard stare. “He knew my locker combination-”

“Okay,” Kurt interrupted, looking thoughtful. “So it’s someone-”

“-annnd we’re pretty sure he doesn’t go to this school.”

“-who goes- Excuse me, what?”

Kurt stared between the three of them with wide, blinking eyes, as though it would better help him perceive what he had just heard. “Excuse me, what?

“Those were kind of my thoughts,” Mike offered sheepishly, not pretending he wasn’t as exhausted by this business as he already was.

It didn’t make any sense at all. It just- it really didn’t.

Santana was back to rolling her eyes, her handy nail file whipped back into action with practiced ease. “It’s not as hard as you losers think it is. All you have to do it pay off the right person and boom,” she snapped. “Instant access to whatever locker combination you want.”

“Someone paid money to break into Mike’s locker,” Kurt repeated, lacking enough emphasis that implied he found this suggestion ridiculous. Underneath the sheer creepiness of it all, Mike managed to be mildly offended. For the sake of…him, and his locker.

“Nope,” Zizes said, clicking through multiple screens until she brought up the footage she had shown Santana and Mike earlier. “Someone paid money to break into Mike and Brittany’s locker.”

What?” Kurt repeated again, lunging from his spot across the room until he was just over the other teen’s shoulder.

“And Quinn’s,” Santana said, listing the names off on her fingers. “And Rachel’s and mine and Blaine’s and just about anyone who could be considered a good dancer in New Directions.”

Kurt whipped his head around, blinking rapidly as he considered this new information.

“But Slick here,” Santana continued, nodding her head towards Mike. “Was the only one who had something taken.”

“But why?” Kurt asked, obviously confused.

“We’re not sure,” Zizes drawled, ignoring the over-panicked teen hovering at her shoulder. “But I have a strong hunch it has something to do with the fact that a ‘choreography’ notebook was stolen.”

“Wait, you think-?” Kurt turned back towards Santana, doing a solid impression of a goldfish as the wheels began turning. “What, some…competition was looking for our choreography?”

“That’s my best bet.” For as confused/annoyed as the rest of the room seemed to be, Zizes was holding steadfast to her boredom and mild levels of amusement. “Though why, I do not know.”

“This is bullshit,” Santa snapped, nail file whisking through the air as she threw her hand out in a broad, sweeping gesture. “We didn’t even make the top ten at Nationals last year, why the hell would someone start messing with us now?”

“Does it even matter?” Mike asked, strained and tired and wanting to move on. “It’s not like I put anything good in there. It was just a bunch of…” he struggled, reaching up to rub the back of his head while he wracked his brain for a good word. “Nonsense, really. Nothing good.”

“Are you sure?” Were it not for how desperately serious Kurt looked as he asked it, Mike might have snapped at him, the day’s tension weighing down an unpleasant burden.

Somehow, he managed his composure.

Swallowing, Mike nodded. “I’m sure. I know what I wrote.”

There was a pause, and then Santana was clapping, file clutched between her hands and she stared down the rest of room with a pleased expression. “Great then. Now that we have nothing to worry about, why don’t you start spilling Miss Priss. I needs me some gossip.”

Kurt opened his mouth to object, possibly to both the nickname and the dismissal, and Mike surged forward, cutting in before things could get sidetracked.

“There’s nothing to be done for it now,” he said quickly. “It’s not like it matters, right?”

Not now, after the worst of the damage had been dealt.

The heavy and mournful stare was enough to indicate that Kurt knew this, but it was only there for a second, only allowed to grieve for a moment before the other teen’s game face was back on. The determination and passion were there in full force and while Mike knew things may not be okay now, there was a very good chance they would be in the future.

A little elbow grease and a lot of planning, and a little time to scab off the worst of the wounds.

That was all they needed now.

With a nod, Kurt started speaking, relaying what he had seen.

Preparing them for what should happen next.

-:-:-:-:-:-

It was pure happenstance that Dave happened to be walking by a specific computer lab at a specific time that allowed him to be privy to things that would ultimately come to affect his future vision for the school’s new hierarchy. His past exploits with Sam had gotten Dave accustomed to the art of snooping, or ‘stealth ninja sleuth data collection’ as the blond had so fondly referred to it, once upon a time, and while Dave’s mind did not stutter to a halt at the one among many recollections that tended to blindside him nowadays about Sam, he did use it as a motivation to shut his mind the hell up and focus. There were familiar voices on the other side of that door, with timbers varying from stoic to concerned to drawled apathy, and that in itself was enough to make Dave recognize this was business he needed to be listening to.

In the wake of recent events, those closest to the blast zone needed to be monitored, and their reactions guided to be as ultimately ineffectual as possible. At least in regards to Dave.

For Sam…they could do whatever they needed.

Part of him sincerely they would do something spontaneous and random or anything just to make the blond smile again, but another part of Dave realized, with some embarrassment, that it probably wouldn’t be as difficult a task as he fancied it to be. He and Sam were friends, sure, good ones even, but he wouldn’t…

He had lived without Dave before, he could do it now.

Reverting back to his previous behaviors wouldn’t be all that difficult, surely.

Dave was losing his focus, again, getting waylaid by thoughts of people who didn’t concern him anymore. He shoved the mental detour aside and turned his attention to identifying the voices inside the computer lab. There were four of them, that much he could tell. Two males, two females, all low and hushed and sounding intensely serious. It took a second or two to realize the mechanically steady diatribe was coming from Kurt, delivering hypothesis and theories in a professionally detached manner while the rest of them listened. Occasionally he would be interrupted by who Dave recognized was Santana, words sharp and taunting, even in this kind of discussion.

It took Dave longer to identify Zizes, her input less frequent than the others. Her tone, unlike Kurt’s, was not teaming with contained emotion, just steady, calm, apathetic but thoughtful. She didn’t shake off her own disposition for the sake of the subject matter, but in a way that was helpful in its own right, proving to pull Kurt back from the edge when he strayed towards terse ranting.

The last voice, the quiet and unsteady one, had been the one Dave placed a face to first. It had been the same one that had finally pulled him towards the path he led today, hushed and confused in a costume closet, and Dave couldn’t help but wish for all the world it didn’t sound so brokenly sad.

Dave should have realized that a potential ramification of hurting Sam was, in turn, hurting Mike, but he had really hoped, desperately so, that he alone would have born the weight of Sam’s discontent. He was the one who had been the jerk, he was the one that had played the blond without remorse, he was the one pretending to go about this just to have a good laugh.

Mike and Kurt had only been helping at Dave’s insistence.

He would have to bring that point home for Sam later, after the blond had cooled off enough to not decorate the floor with a scattering of Dave’s possessions.

He could only handle hurting one person this badly at the moment, Dave didn’t really- he was just kind of tired of making good people hurt.

He would make it up to Mike. And Kurt too.

Dave owed them both so much.

Morose and dramatic, he noted with disgust, he decided it was time to move on. Rachel would be waiting for him out by her car, and Dave had caught enough of their conversation to understand where it was going. As he had expected, Kurt sensed there was more to Sam and Dave’s altercation than met the eye, that Sam’s response and Dave’s following depression couldn’t possibly be the results of a little misunderstanding.

It was true, but it was also inconvenient in that truth. That meant that Kurt was going to keep digging, possibly bringing the others along for the ride, and Dave really needed that to not happen. He couldn’t exactly stop them, but Sam’s furry would be enough to keep them off of his tail and Dave’s…new activities would eat up more than enough of his free time.

Unfortunately, that also meant that Zizes and Santana were out for the team to take on school-domination, but it was a necessary sacrifice. There was no way either of them would not go back to Kurt and spill the motive behind Dave’s misdeeds. That in itself would lead to a very pissed and very displeased Kurt Hummel on his ass and Dave- he wasn’t going to deal with that. He wasn’t going to try to justify or explain himself to who had been, perhaps, the most bullied, most put-upon teenager to ever enter McKinnley High School.

To explain that it wasn’t okay for the others to deal out the punishments they did. It wasn’t right. Everyone deserved to be safe.

So Dave would make them safe.

That was why he was doing this. He just needed to remember that.

Chapter Text

Finn had been prodding at his homework reluctantly, kind of hoping through sheer force of not-wanting to do it that the paper would somehow magically write itself, when Sam walked into their shared bedroom.

On second thought, it was less walking and more like super-tense, army-marching; complete with a mean grimace and stiff shoulders and the general air of someone who you probably shouldn’t be messing with at this exact moment. Which Finn could understand; sometimes people needed space. Especially people who were being targeted by the majority of the school for nothing less than an obvious lie, and got the short end of the stick when it came to verbal, physical, and emotional harassment.

Usually though, Sam didn’t come home all that angry because he had Dave and Mike to like, pick him up, you know?

Finn risked a quick glance that he hoped was more subtle than it probably was, then glared back down at his paper.

That was not the face of a guy who had been cooled down or supported in any way. Sam had the face of a guy about to fall apart at the seams, complete with finger twitching and messed up hair and what looked like an overall depression for the state of his life.

So…this was bad.

The second thing Finn noticed, aside from general storm of unhappiness setting up on Sam’s end of the room, was the fact that the blond had come in alone.

As in, no Kurt waltzing up the stairs behind him, no Navigator in the driveway by Finn’s dusty pickup, which was weird because how…?

“How did you get home?” Finn asked, still staring out the window, confused.

Finn himself had left school early to get a head start on this paper he may or may not have been pushing off until now, but he had cleared that with Sam and Kurt earlier, so they could ride together.

Sam hadn’t gotten like, a car while he wasn’t looking, had he?

No wait- maybe Dave dropped him off. He did that sometimes.

Usually though - those times - he stayed too.

Without looking away from the spot on his pillow he was trying to glare a hole through, Sam muttered, “I called Carole. She picked me up.” After a few moments of awkward silence he added, “You’re mom’s nice Finn.”

Which was true, very true, in Finn’s (unbiased) opinion, and Sam had said as much before, but it just seemed kind of like an odd time and…temperament to be bringing it up.

“And Bert too, of course,” Sam continued, a little watery and shit, that wasn’t good, and Finn wasn’t good with these kinds of things- “I’ll have to make them a card, or something or- no, no.” He shook his head, abandoning that idea with a few frustrated jerks. “No, I’ll just uh…buy them one. Like a normal person.”

“Are you okay dude?” While it was very clear Sam wasn’t, it just seemed kind of rude not to ask. “Because you’re not like, making any sense.”

“It would be a Thank You card,” Sam elaborated, glancing in Finn’s direction for the first time since entering the room. His eyes were red and irritated. “Since they’ve been so nice?”

“Well, yeah…” Finn nodded, because his mom liked cards and stuff like that. Even the painted ones that Sam preferred. In fact, especially those. “I mean, that’s true, but um…what about you?”

“Me?” Sam echoed, his voice sounding kind of between a laugh and kind of between an almost-sob and Finn was so very much not prepared to deal with this. “I’m fine. We’re fine people, right?”

“Right,” Finn agreed, choosing to play it safe until Sam started making sense again.

What the hell had happened to him?

Sam didn’t look very happy at his agreement, eyes narrowing briefly before turning away, back towards the pillow. “We’re good as long as they…” he gestured towards the door, then shrugged. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

“Dude, you’re kind of freaking me out.”

“Sorry,” Sam replied quietly. His fingers toyed along the outer seam of his jeans, wandering aimlessly. “I think,” he said after a slight delay. “I think I want to go home.”

Finn blinked at him, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “What do you mean? You are home.”

This was pretty much as home as Sam was going to get, unless this was code for like, go to the auditorium or the choir room or something. Like a metaphor, a home away from home.

Finn was going to have to mention that to Rachel later, it definitely seemed like the kind of thing she would appreciate. And when Rachel appreciated something, she was happy, and when she was happy…

He was a little embarrassed to admit he might have been momentarily sidetracked with the pleasant thoughts of Rachel prizes when Sam answered, so it took Finn a minute to actually understand what the blond was trying to say.

“Not here-home,” Sam muttered, throwing his legs over the edge of the bed carelessly, staring down at his shoes. “I mean home-home, with my family.”

By the time Finn managed to wrap his head around that, Sam had already fished his beat up duffle bag out of the bottom of Finn’s closet and had begun going about the room, collecting stuff and putting them in mish-mashed piles on his bed.

What?” Finn asked, louder than he had meant to, but he just couldn’t- Sam couldn’t mean that, right?

“I’m going home,” Sam declared, voice shaky but determined enough to send a chill through Finn, because he sounded so certain, like there was nothing that was going change his mind ever.

And Finn would know that tone, his girlfriend was Rachel Berry. She kind of put a new meaning to the idea of ‘headstrong’.

“Okay, dude,” Finn began, springing away from his desk and abandoning his half-finished paper, moving towards Sam with his hands up, cautiously. “You are going to tell me what the hell happened to you and you are not going to say ‘nothing’ because nothing wouldn’t make you all…” Finn gestured a hopeless hand towards the piles. “Abandon-y, and stuff.”

At that, Sam whipped towards him, a small gathering of random items clutched against his chest in a death grip as he looked at Finn, face screwed in displeasure.

Finn struggled to keep the situation from like, getting worse. “And if you- after you talk, and you let me listen and we think about this- if you really want to go- Dude, we won’t stop you, okay? But just like…” With his palms still held flat out, Finn motioned towards the bed. “Will you just stop, for a second, okay? You’re not alone in…” -whatever the hell was eating at him- “…this,” Finn settled on.

There was a lot of Finn that begged, pleaded for the words he was saying to hit home. That Sam wouldn’t somehow twist them around and take them the wrong way because that looked like a definite possibility and Finn really wasn’t the best with these things. Especially with other dudes. He usually just ended up making them more upset/sad/enraged. Just check his track record with Kurt.

There were a few horrible seconds where Sam just stood there, maybe considering what Finn had said or maybe about to chew him out for even saying it- and please, please don’t let that be that option because Sam was Finn’s friend and he didn’t want him to just like, go without having tried to help him or anything. Finn already felt like an ass for not noticing when Sam’s family had become practically-homeless last year, he wasn’t going to let that shit repeat itself.

The seconds passed, and then Sam’s shoulders loosened up a bit, sagging almost, and he slowly turned back towards the bed, dumping his armload onto it haphazardly and collapsing next to it. He didn’t say anything though, meaning that the ball was completely in Finn’s court.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, so he bought himself a little time by sitting himself down on his own bed, facing Sam.

Okay then, so…therapy time?

Apparently Sam’s silence had less to do with waiting for Finn and more to do with finding the right words, or something; because the moment the quarterback is settled in he started talking.

“It’s just…” The blond grabbed at his hair frustratingly, tugging at the strands. “I don’t want to feel dumb, okay?”

Finn blinked at this, trying to figure out where it had come from, then deciding he would probably never figure it out. “Dude, I know we’re not like, the smartest guys in the Glee club, but that doesn’t mean we’re dumb all around, okay? We’re good at other stuff people aren’t good at.”

Like having a nice smile and being able to return food you ordered at a restaurant without making people cry (Rachel).

Something Finn said must have hit a sore spot, because Sam was on his feet again, pacing the room. “Yeah, but all that stuff doesn’t stop them from thinking we’re dumb.”

“But we kind of…are.”

Finn wasn’t sure what else to say; they weren’t bright people. They had other strengths though, and it wasn’t like this was exactly new information.

He wondered what made it a problem now.

Sam flinched- full on, no joke, flinched- jerking away from Finn, towards the mess on his bed. “But then they…They shouldn’t treat us dumb, though.”

“Is someone being an ass to you?” Finn asked, moving to stand. “‘Cuz if Santana’s gone all super-jerk we can totally stage an intervention or something-”

“It’s not her,” Sam snapped, and Finn might have imagined the way he shook when Finn mentioned interventions but he definitely did not miss how Sam’s voice had gone all tight and unpleasant.

“Then who?” Even though it made him uneasy, Finn knew he had to keep pushing. “Was it Strando? Or Azimio? Dude, you know they’re just being douchebags. You shouldn’t listen to the crap they say-

“It was Dave.”

The statement lingered, painful and awkward in the air, leaving Finn gaping, unsure of what to say.

Sam turned back towards him, his eyes wet and shining. “It was him and the rest of them, okay? Can’t you see what they’re doing? What they think? How they-” he cut himself off with an angry gesture, throwing his arms into the air, at a complete loss. “They think we’re jokes Finn. And I can maybe take being treated like a second-class citizen from the rest of the school, but I sure as hell am not going to take that shit from the people who are supposed to be our friends.”

“Sam…” It was all Finn had to say at the moment, thoughts jumbling one on top of the other to try and figure out what the hell Dave had done.

He had seemed like a stand up guy, and more than that, he cared about Sam’s wellbeing just about more than anyone else in the whole entire school, himself included.

Did this have something to do with what happened on movie night? Damn it, Finn knew he should have shut Puck up the moment he had opened his stupid mouth, but he hadn’t thought Sam would have taken it as personally as he did and he really didn’t think Dave would hear it, but he had, and now Sam was almost crying and threatening to leave and having this very intense break-down in their bedroom that Finn couldn’t really ever hope to reverse. If hugging it out had been an option, Finn would have used it the moment Sam entered the room, but he was pretty sure they were well past that.

Had Dave…did he like, lash out at Sam because Sam said he wasn’t attracted to him?

But even as he thought it, Finn knew that couldn’t be true. Maybe the Dave of last year would have done that, but the Dave of now had proven to be a good guy, and he wouldn’t be that petty.

So what the hell did he do?

“You know that isn’t true Sam.”

They were both startled by the intrusion of a new voice, though Finn was pretty sure his shock turned into instant relief the moment he realized that it was Kurt standing in the doorway, looking as cool and collected as ever.

His step brother allowed himself into the room without waiting for an invitation, and by the time he had the door shut behind him and his lecture pose assumed, Sam had managed to recover, look of hurt replaced with intense anger.

You-

“I’ve already heard what you had to say,” Kurt continued smoothly, speaking over Sam’s attempted rant. “And while it was justified, at the time, I need you to give me a chance to speak.”

Finn kind of wanted to ask what the hell had happened earlier, because Kurt was acting so unaffected by angry Sam, like he had already seen him rear his ugly head, but the greater part of him wanted to actually hear where Kurt was going with this. That in itself would explain enough.

“I owe you nothing,” Sam spat, and from him, that was ballsy, because Kurt was one of the people who had been the most generous towards Sam, ever since the very beginning. The fact that the blond didn’t even want to hear what he had to say, and the fact that Kurt hadn’t engaged his you-will-listen-and-you-will-listen-good face meant that some zero-hour, apocalyptic shit had gone down.

What, Finn had left these guys alone for like, an hour, tops?

What had happened?

And it just got worse as Kurt continued, holding up a calming hand. “I know you don’t, or, you feel you don’t, but I would like you to extend to me the benefit of the doubt for at least five minutes.”

“Why?” Sam asked, and there was a word Rachel used, Finn thought it was ‘stricken’, that kind of described how Sam looked right now. “Why does it matter to you so much that I buy your…”

Bullcrap, was the word he didn’t say, but Kurt and Finn heard it none the less.

Thankfully, instead of making him upset, it looked like that was the opportunity Kurt had needed. “Because you are my friend Sam, and while I attempt to offer the most basic of human dignities to all of those I interact with, I prefer the few that I consider friends not to think that I would, in any instance, willingly act in a way that was malicious or vindictive towards them.”

“But that didn’t stop you from actually, like, doing it,” Sam shot back, and Finn was more surprised that he had managed to follow what Kurt said, because Finn was still trying to figure that out from himself.

“Sam,” Kurt said, and underneath that neutral professionalism was a sort of pleading. “We did not make up a missing notebook to make a fool out of you. We did not do it to keep a handle on you, and we did not do it as some kind of sick game to derive pleasure from.” He stepped forward purposefully, never taking his eyes off of Sam. “We made up that notebook– Mike and I made up that notebook – because Dave asked us to. Because he wanted to spend time with you in a way that wasn’t just…dealing with other people’s problems.”

It took Finn a few seconds to remember the Mike-Puck intervention thing, right, but by then Kurt was already talking, because Sam totally knew that too.

“He wanted to spend time with you but Dave’s…” Kurt trailed off, searching for the right words. “He likes structure,” he settled on. “He wanted to be impulsive and fun but wasn’t, actually, that kind of person, so he asked us to set something up so there would be a kind of element of control and he asked us not to tell you guys anything after that.”

“But he’s the one who steered everything!” Sam shouted. “He’s the one who swayed who we should interrogate and who we shouldn’t-”

Kurt’s eyes widened, clearly surprised by Sam’s ferocity. “It was all supposed to be harmless Sam; there would be no hard feelings at the end of the day-”

“Except for mine!” And every part of Sam looked utterly humiliated for having to admit that. “I don’t care why you did it,” Sam looked away, blinking rapidly. “It doesn’t change the fact that you knowingly made me look like a jackass. Even if no one else ever found out about it, I was still…” his head dropped down against his chest, fists curling tight. “You still played me.”

Knowing an opportunity when he saw one, Finn stepped in, holding a hand up towards both teens. “Okay, I just- I want to take a moment to say something, real quick.”

Ignoring the way Kurt tried to glare a hole through his face for interrupting, Finn kept his eyes focused on Sam, who continued to refuse to look at either of them.

“Kurt, what you and Mike did, while well-intended, was kind of an awful thing to do.” His brother’s eyes widened in surprise, as though he hadn’t expected Finn to take a tough love approach to this, but the quarterback was already turning back to Sam, whose attention he finally had. “And Sam, while it was, like, super stupid and kind of mean for them to do this, the only reason why they would have ever bothered to put this much effort into something was because they liked you, and they wanted you to have like, a detective adventure with Dave.”

Finn could see that Sam was considering this slightly, eyes narrowed, and he attempted to bring it on home. “And while it was a shitty way to go about it, people make mistakes you know? They wouldn’t have tried so hard if they didn’t care so much so…” He looked between them carefully. “Like, hug it out, or something.”

The time might have passed for it, but Finn liked to think that was always an option on the table.

“I believe that idea has some merit,” Kurt offered after a short silence, wavering slightly, sounding soft and uncertain.

That captured Sam’s attention.

“We never meant to hurt you Sam.” Kurt continued walking forward, stopping until he was just in front of the blond. “You need to know how horribly sorry we both are, and we never wanted you to feel like this.”

“Not your fault,” Sam muttered quietly, and at this Kurt seemed to get some of his old spitfire back, expression going hard as he analyzed the other teen.

“If you say something along the lines of ‘I’m just dumb’, I swear Sam Evans I will give you the rant to end all rants. What you lack in book smarts you more than make up for in depth of character and if you ever underrate that, for a second, I will never forgive you.”

It startled Sam- hell, it startled Finn and he wasn’t even really involved, but Kurt kept going, already worked into a fine form. “I don’t know what Dave said to you, and I this is going to sound crazy but I think that he had an alternate motive here, I just don’t know what they are.”

“Dave’s,” Sam almost choked it out, but he was getting better, more like his old self, when his eyes widened like he remembered something. “Is it like,” he turned towards Finn, eyes earnest. “Do you think it was because of what happened…?”

For once, Finn knew what he was talking about.

“Nah dude, I almost thought the same thing, but Dave’s not that petty.”

“What happened?” Kurt asked, serious undermined by that slight mania that came because he was a total gossip whore.

Yeah, he could try to keep it calm and collected, but at the end of the day, he just wanted in on the deets.

Kurt was reliable, that way.

“How about we trade stories?” Finn offered, knowing it was the only way either of them would get him up to date. “Then we’ll figure out what’s happening with Dave.”

“Sounds fair,” Kurt allowed, with slight displeasure. See, he wanted answers like, now. “Oh, and Mike’s waiting downstairs.”

At their blank looks, Finn kind of thrown for a loop and Sam still off-balance, Kurt added, “If you didn’t listen to me, he refused to let this go without having a say in it. I’ll go get him.”

“Nah,” Sam shook his head quickly, a tiny smile pulling at his lips. “I’ll do it.”

Which was code for, ‘I’ll go so we can do running hugs from opposite ends of the room and collapse in a pile of dramatic limbs and such’, but neither Finn nor Kurt was ever one to critique the odd relationship of Mike and Sam.

It was just one of those things you didn’t question.

“I hope they don’t break anything,” Kurt rubbed his forehead, signaling a growing headache.

“I hope they don’t break anything of mine,” Finn amended, because unlike Kurt, he liked to set achievable goals.

-:-:-:-:-:-

The key to instigating an effective strategy was to keep the number of players to a minimum, at least for the key roles. In the planning stages, muddling things up with too many ideas and opinions could easily sabotage any plan before it could even get off the ground, which was why Dave kept things simple. It was all about quality over quantity. Substance over volume, and such.

The fact that some were too close to the issue might have narrowed down Dave’s options a bit when it came to selecting his cohorts for the change in leadership movement, but at the end of the day, he decided it was all for the best.

He arranged for the meeting to take place in one of the less-frequented coffee shops around town – a Starbucks that was, strangely enough, always passed over in favor of the Lima Bean – and kept his invitation discreet. Scheduled between rushes, with enough of a crowd that their conversation wouldn’t carry but allowing for enough space that encouraged frank discussion.

Ideally, Dave would have preferred to do it at someone’s house to eliminate the threat of being overheard by the wrong people entirely, but seeing as he couldn’t actually invite people over to Rachel’s without A) fessing up being kicked out and B) informing Rachel, the coffee shop it was.

His potential revolutionaries arrived separate but exactly on time, placing their orders and heading towards Dave, backpacks in hand. There was a chance Dave had made this appointment under the guise it was a study date. One of them, he could tell, suspected differently based on the location of said study date, the other was oblivious in their blind faith, though clearly concerned with matters that had nothing to do with the current situation.

Dave knew he had taken a chance when he had picked Blaine, seeing as he was Kurt’s second set of eyes, but the jcok was hoping that the stakes they were facing would warrant the other teen’s cooperation.

Quinn, on the other hand, he had no concerns about. She played the composed ice queen very well, but when it came down to it, Quinn liked power. She liked being on top.

This would benefit all of them.

“Blaine,” Dave nodded his head in greeting. “Quinn.”

“Dave,” the blonde replied coolly, giving him a critical eye before sliding into the chair to Dave’s right, crowding onto their little round table with an air of grace and poise unnatural to Lima. “Shall we skip the pleasantries?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic Quinn,” Blaine chastised, a small frown tugging at his lips. “It’s just a study session.”

Quinn rolled her eyes and sighed, as though pondering why she put up with this. “Please, Anderson, we don’t even share a class together, do you honestly think that he brought us here to study?”

Blaine’s eyebrows furrowed, and he prepared an argument. “Of course I-” his gaze flickered to Dave, looking for back up, but instead discovered the clear lack of argument. “…We’re not, are we?”

“I’m sorry for lying,” Dave apologized quietly, avoiding the look of hurt he knew Blaine would give him, unable to bear even the slightest of it. “I needed to get you here without arousing suspicion.”

“Fail much?” Quinn’s eyebrows raised incredulously, climbing up her forehead. “Is this about your break up with Sam?”

“You have to be dating to break up,” Dave countered, trying to keep his voice from going gruff. The wound was still fresh and aching, and it took all of Dave’s control not to start wringing his hands on the table, uncertain and wanting.

Quinn gave him a thoughtful look. “Which you would have liked to do.”

“That’s not why we’re here,” Dave couldn’t help but snap, couldn’t stop his fist from clenching uselessly on top of his textbook that was all for show. He took a few seconds to get his breathing under control, knowing the other two were judging- Blaine worried, Quinn picking him apart, before he spoke again. “Look, I have something very important to talk about, and it’s going to be risky and it might just come back to bite us in the ass but there is a chance, a very slight chance that it might work and I really, really want to fight to make that happen.”

“Sell me on it,” Quinn demanded, her tone level, emotionless. “I don’t know what you’re trying to cook up here Dave but under these circumstances,” she motioned to the shop around them. “I’m interested in hearing it.” She turned her eyes to Blaine. “You in?”

The other teen, for the most part, still looked uncertain. Actually, he really looked like he wanted to press Dave more on the ‘break up’ with Sam issue, but based on the hard gazes of Dave, and the light air of Quinn, he knew it wasn’t going to happen.

And because Blaine sort of had this complex where he felt the need to help out in a poor attempt to establish some kind of control on all Glee Club Shenanigans, Dave knew before he had even nodded that his answer would be yes.

It was one of the reasons he had picked Blaine.

“I’m in,” Blaine confirmed with a nod, eyes going serious.

So…that was it then.

Now it was just time for Dave to sell the ridiculous plan he had with a straight face and pray they would hear him out before they labeled him a lunatic.

Dave didn’t waste any time dallying around the issue, he just went for it. “I want to rearrange the school’s hierarchy.”

Blaine’s head cocked to the side, confused, while Quinn’s eyes narrowed

Dave continued. “I want to make it so the Glee Club is on top, that we have enough power to not be accountable to answer to any other click perpetually.”

Blaine was still confused, but Quinn caught up easily, scoffing. “It can’t be done. I couldn’t even manage a slushie-free day when I was the captain of the Cheerios dating the quarterback, Dave. If we can’t even get the school to show respect to at least two of our members, how are we supposed to get them to listen to Rachel Berry? I mean, are you even listening to yourself? It’s insanity.”

Blaine, bless his heart, was still struggling to put the pieces together. “You want to…” his eyebrows furrowed, and it was almost adorable, in a way that sort of hurt. “What, make the glee club popular?”

“The most popular,” Dave corrected.

And yes, he knew that sounded crazy, but he didn’t bring them this far for just hopes and wishes- there was some real world planning and application put into this shit. Dave knew what he was doing.

Quinn was still shaking her head. “You can’t do it. We can’t do it. It’s impossible Dave.”

“No,” Dave countered, placing both hands palm down against the table, spreading his fingers and leaning forward, conspiratorial but dominating. Just like old times. “It’s a numbers game. It’s a logic game. And if we play to those two factors we can not, and will not, lose.”

“But how?” Blaine asked.

“Yes Dave,” Quinn added, finger tapping impatiently against her coffee cup. “Enlighten us.”

Dave tilted his head thoughtfully. “As you wish.” He reached down into his backpack, never tearing his eyes away from either of them, and withdrew a notebook. He threw it open to the designated page, knowing that visual aids always helped to bring the point home.

“The jocks and the Cheerios are popular purely based on the fact that they are the majority. They are the biggest groups with shared common interests and therefore, by that logic, have the most friends. The most people to back them up. As such, when it comes to establishing order all others generally defer to these groups, because they have strength in numbers.”

“Hence your first point,” Quinn noted, taking a slow sip of her coffee.

Were Dave one to dawdle on his own achievements, he would have been a little proud that she sounded just mildly impressed.

“But what about the logic?” Blaine prompted, eyes wide. He was interested now, fully on the level.

“That pertains to us,” Dave explained. “The Glee club. If taken on an individual level, the students of McKinley collectively love New Directions’ performances. You always get a standing ovation, but outside of that-”

“They hate us,” Quinn supplied darkly, frowning into her cup.

“Outside of that,” Dave continued. “They follow the mass appeal. And the ones in charge – and I would know this, as one who used to be in charge – are easily threatened by this.”

It was Blaine’s turn to scoff. “That’s bull,” he said quietly. “They could care less about us.”

Dave shrugged. “Not really. You’re a group of talented, attractive, genuinely nice people. There is very little about that package that is unappealing. Add to that music is just about universally loved, and those who produce it well are raised above others, and you have a potential problem should things go unchecked.” He turned his eyes to Quinn. “That’s where the numbers game comes back in.”

“Then how are we supposed to beat it?” Quinn asked, beginning to sound annoyed. “If the majority is still on their side then how can we overthrow that? Recruiting?”

“We couldn’t find enough people,” Blaine shook his head. “Not enough that really wanted it, and definitely not enough that were willing to risk the hit.”

“We use logic on their asses, is how,” Dave interrupted. “Logic and uh…perhaps some slightly questionable tactics.”

He turned to the next page of the notebook, watching as their eyes widened – even Quinn’s – and began explaining in a low voice a rough outline for what he believed needed to be done to win them their just desserts.

Despite the planning and the attention and all of his efforts, Dave wasn’t entirely successfully in forgetting about Sam.

He probably would never be.

But that was the price you paid.

Chapter Text

Photoshop, as it so happened, turned out to be one of their greatest allies.

At least, this was true for Quinn’s plan of attack, which made it all the more fortunate that Rachel’s dad’s had copies of the program on all of their computers, for reason’s Dave was not entirely sure of. He had a feeling it had something to do with the numerous Broadway collages Rachel had scattered about the house though. He wasn’t an expert with it, but surprise of all surprises, Quinn was a natural, and took to the computer (under the guise of a private study session, because apparently that was a bulletproof excuse for everything) like a fish to water, churning out picture after incriminating picture.

Their plan was a three-pronged attack. Which was ingenious, actually – or Dave convinced himself of this because otherwise he would have run screaming after he had figured out the final breakdown.

The strategy focused on three distinct groups of students.

Group one - Quinn’s group - was the Cheerios. Her goal was to join back up and reclaim her old title of Head Cheerleader. Coach Sylvester wouldn’t make it easy (because Coach Sylvester was a psychopath), but that was where the photoshoping came in.

It had been Quinn’s idea, ultimately, that the pictures would serve a double purpose. One, the faked pictures would give her leverage over certain key players in the Cheerios - the officers - forcing their allegiance to Quinn for fear of the pictures being turned over to Coach Sylvester. Dave had no idea what Quinn had put in the damn things, and for the sake of their sanity he and Blaine had wisely opted not to look, but they seemed to work like a charm. The Cheerios knew they weren’t legit, but Coach Sylvester wasn’t prone to believing things like logic in the wake of obvious lies, which Quinn had ‘helpfully’ pointed out, so they were quick to agree. The Cheerios backed off the New Directions.

A week later, Quinn was back in red and white, leading the ranks.

All thanks to the second function of the photos.

After hours of careful planning, with multiple contingencies put in place to accommodate for a variety of circumstances, the three of them – the Revolutionaries, as Dave liked to call them – managed to determine the most appropriate locations for Quinn’s ‘kind persuasion’ to occur. Places that seemed secluded. Places where the targest were comfortable enough to encourage free speech. Places that were, ultimately, neither one of the first two items, and frequently just out of the way of Coach Sylvester’s day-to-day routine.

Every threat, every ultimatum, every argument Quinn threw at the Cheerios was heard by the cheerleading coach. By smack down number ten or twelve, pride at Quinn’s eager cutthroat activities outweighed Sue’s disgust, and Quinn had her spot back on top, looking every inch like she belonged there.

Not only had it brought Dave an added boost of courage that they could, in fact, do this, but it had won him ten dollars off of Blaine.

(The poor guy had been convinced that no teacher would be so negligibly sociopathic, and spent the ten minutes following the disproof of this belief rocking in a corner, making sad noises).

Group two - the more massive and steadily reluctant - was the majority of the minorities. The task was pretty much perfectly suited for Blaine, who was well-liked by just about everyone, regardless of his sexuality. Dave worried a bit about overworking the guy, considering what his job entailed, but at heart Blaine was undoubtedly the ultimate Boy Scout and refused to back down for something he considered was for ‘the greater good’.

Over the course of two weeks, Blaine was meeting with every extra club, every obscure group, and mingling with different clicks and packs during lunch, class, and in the hallways. The only time he was specifically with the glee club anymore was during rehearsals and meetings, which would have raised more than one suspicious eyebrow (namely Kurt’s) were it not for that charming smile and Quinn’s air-tight alibi. He was simply “Getting a leg up for next year”, Blaine had explained with an eager smile, he wanted to “Run for Senior Class President, and everyone knows that the next most important thing after a good first impression is a fantastic last impression”.

School would be out soon, and he wanted everyone to remember him fondly.

If Kurt was a little grumpier about this, and had perhaps thrown a few suspicious glares Dave’s way, he ascended to it eventually. They would have all summer, Blaine had explained - echoing Quinn’s words - all Blaine needed was a few more weeks and besides, Kurt had his NYADA auditions to practice for, right?

After that, there were no more objectors. Zizes actually seemed kind of pleased at her newest addition to the AV Club, found Blaine to be ‘Dapper Eyecandy’, and despite the snarky words it was clear to see she held Blaine in high regards, meaning the rest of the club did too, and probably the wrestling team.

He hadn’t stopped there. They had decided they might as well make the most of his excuse to run for student council, and as he made his rounds about the school he asked students what kind of changes they wanted to see in the future. After some thorough practice with Quinn, Blaine had learned to guide the students’ suggestions towards realistic goals, things that actually could be achievable. They would need Figgins’ assistance to make them come to pass, true, but with one visit from Vampire Tina their reasonable requests could be put into action. The students would have a voice.

Blaine would be a man of the people.

This way the Glee Club would be safe for next year, and hopefully the year after that, if Blaine trained his predecessors. And, after that, if they did it long enough, this convoluted scheme of sleuth and subtlety wouldn’t be necessary for one club to be safe.

But Dave believed in dealing with the hand he was dealt with, in the now, so that was a future concern.

Group three - the more vile, temperamental, and prone-to-violence faction - were the jocks. Specifically, the football team.

The Hockey team, while the second largest – and frequently prone to aspiring to greatness beyond their reach - were ultimately deemed unworthy of their attention. Between the football team and the Cheerios, Zizes’ (literal) stranglehold on the wrestling team and Sam’s connections with the swim team, they had enough sway in the athleticism department to overturn any complaints the wannabe champions tried to dish out.

This, of course, was dependent on Dave’s ability to “win” the football players over. In itself, it was a terrifying task to consider, but Dave’s choice of Quinn proved to be on the money when the blonde refused to let him be shaken by his undertaking, not acknowledging his (well deserved) concerns or trepidation with a haughty air of boredom, like it was beneath her, like it was beneath all of them.

Blaine skipped the vocal part of moral support and went straight to baking Dave cookies. Dave approved of this strategy. Quinn had rolled her eyes and then stolen two.

It was unquestionable that Dave’s task would be the most difficult. The betrayal was still fresh and his targets were openly hostile and unconcerned with his previous superiority. Or, most of them tried to convince themselves of this. There were a few who had kept to the company of Strando that were making a clear effort to keep out of Dave’s way. It was refreshing, actually, but still brought on a sour twinge whenever he relived the actions necessary to create such results, the mindset of Old Dave, the aggressor, running free.

As he had many times before, Dave forced the feelings down and moved on, keeping his eye on the prize.

The name of the game was divide and conquer. In groups, the jocks could feed off of each other, or differ to the superiority of the strongest will. As a group they were frustrating and nearly impenetrable, incapable of reason.

As individuals, however, Dave’s old friends regained some of their humanity. Being alone forced them to rely on their own, more rational mindset, leaving them open to suggestion, if one pressed hard enough. The automatic rejection based on falling under one category or another no longer existed, because a one-on-one approach was more personal. You couldn’t disassociate the person before you as just “Glee equals bad”; they weren’t an equation, they were a person with a complicated history that they may or may not have had contact with, had formed bonds, traded secrets purely based on the confirmation they were reliable because you shared similar interests.

Approaching them one at a time gave Dave the opportunity to make them hear him out, and really, all he needed was a leg in the door to get his message across.

See, there was a kind of brilliance that came from being the guy that held the camera all the time. A duty Dave had generously volunteered for, sitting out during the “more fun” (i.e. more stupid and daredevil-lish and illegal) pastimes in order to capture their magnificent glory on film, to live in perpetual infamy. To this point, it had stood as an unspoken rule that Dave would not access the years (and he meant years, going as far back as sixth grade) of footage just sitting on his hard drive after his ‘fall from grace’. It was an honor thing. It was about respect.

And Dave, like the asshole-ish monster that he was, gladly disregarded those rules and the whole “end never justifies the means” speech his mother had drilled into him since forever and set about getting the Glee club its due.

Word got around quickly – Dave hadn’t even bothered to tell his targets to keep their mouths shut – and after the first three the guys, anyone he approached would twist their expressions into something akin to resentment and rage, but dutifully agree to a ‘conversation’.

It was more like an ultimatum.

Like Quinn, Dave had picked power players, explained what was necessary to keep the footage from being uploaded straight onto Youtube, and cleared his hands of it. Ultimately, he left the decision to them. Some of them, the smarter ones, a few guys down the line once they realized what was happening, would point out (usually with a smug grin) that the videos incriminated him just as much as anybody else. That he too, would fall, would get a mark on that spotless record of his – guilty by association.

When they were finished, positively preening at their ingenious discovery, Dave would grace them with a bored look he had been practicing with Quinn, one part disinterest and the other part psychotic detachment, and humbly informed them that he gave no shits if it meant taking them down. With one expression he made them believe that their guaranteed destruction could be the most important goal in his entire life, to hell with the consequences, as long as they were crushed like the worms his eyes said they were.

Later, when Dave would press a harsh palm against his stomach to quell the raising nausea, Quinn would tell him, quietly, that she had learned the tactic from Coach Sylvester.

Dave was pretty sure he actually did throw up after that, but Quinn was kind enough to look the other way, and didn’t mention it again.

The gambit, however unfavorable, was met with rousing success. Dave had his targets’ attention – Clark, Stevens, Jarred (oh, had he made that reject squirm after what he had done to Sam) and, with just the most polite and respectful attitudes, their cooperation.

See, phase two of approaching Group Three involved separating the semi-leadership into a new group of their own.

To clarify, Dave restarted the Bully Whips.

That idea had come from Blaine, and it was too perfectly appropriate for Dave or Quinn to ever argue against it. The Bully Whips would not only A – alienate the leader jocks, but B – force them to set an ‘appropriate’ example of behavior. By cooperating, they became the new status quo. Moving in mass had made the change – as odd as it was – acceptable to the followers. They, wanting to fit in, didn’t question the actions of the more popular guys, supported them even, to a frightening degree, and just like that bullying was down in the school about seventy percent overnight.

Of course, that didn’t account for Coach Sylvester, or that Swim team Coach who turned out to be just as rude and psychotic, but it did wonders for the school’s moral. And that didn’t even include focusing on the Glee club specifically.

Dave was wise enough not to go after Azimio.

As different as they had become, there was still a history of eight solid years of friendship trailing after them, times when they never had to question the other one having their back, for whatever reason, and while that might not seem like much to the likes of Quinn, it still meant a hell of a lot to Dave.

Blaine seemed to get it, in one of those instances that proved he and Dave had more in common than they ever addressed, and hadn’t pushed him on it. He knew, just like Dave knew, the unspoken rules. Dave wasn’t an idiot, Azimio had dumped him faster than a fire bomb the moment Dave had crossed an unspoken, and frankly illogical, line. If Dave were to ever come out – to truly come out, not by way of hypothetical example, but without strings or situations that he amended his choices for – Azimio would hate him. Passionately and remorselessly despise Dave with every fiber of his being simply based on something he had absolutely no control over. If he had thought Dave’s move to the Glee Club had been a betrayal, there would be no words for how traitorous his sexual attraction would be. Like Dave would have done it on purpose, or something.

Dave steered clear of Azimio, which was turning into a slight problem because it seemed an awful lot like he didn’t want to play ball with the Revolutionaries new rules.

Because if Dave wasn’t and idiot, Azimio sure as hell wasn’t either. He knew what was going on. He didn’t know why, or what had made Dave wait this long, but every time Dave caught a glimpse of him in the hallways his old friend had been openly studying him with a critical eye, trying to puzzle it out.

If Dave knew Azimio well enough (and he did), the other teen would be thinking that this had been the ultimate goal of Dave’s ‘defection’. That Dave had only been trying to hog the glory for himself, so he shut Azimio out and picked a group of underdogs that would, in Azimio’s opinion, blindly follow wherever Dave led them. They would be easy to manipulate, and therefore ripe for Dave’s pickings, and hey, if he could somehow manage to get New Directions to be popular then Dave would have that much more satisfaction, right? That he could deal with the added difficulty of their social inadequacies and still come out on top.

Dave had hoped that this was all just wild speculation. That he was getting carried away with himself due to the stress of repeatedly worrying over the tiniest details, that hammering out all the minor problems had kicked his brain into paranoid overdrive and Azimio’s inspections were simply the same distasteful, hate-filled things that they had always been.

And then one morning, just as Dave was donning his stupid red beret (the same beret the Berrys had insisted on re-coordinating his wardrobe around, assembling outfits that wouldn’t clash with the Bully Whip jacket while Rachel looked on, almost bursting with pride) he caught some movement in his peripherals and turned to see Azimio leaning on the locker beside him, eyes narrowed.

“I know what you’re up to, jackass,” he stated, voice teaming with resentment. “And I’m not playing.”

Dave hesitated for a second - Blaine having drilled into him the effectiveness of a well-timed pause - then gifted Azimio with a shrug. “I didn’t think you would.”

The other teen’s expression contorted from a tight frown to a full on grimace, rocking back, and belatedly Dave realized he hadn’t actually expected Dave to confirm anything – or at least, not give an audible confirmation to his deceit.

Azimio left without saying another word, but as the survivor he was, he didn’t attempt to rock the new world order. In silence, his friend of eight years slunk into the shadows with only the company of his bitterness, taking his fall from power with as much grace as any of them could hope for.

With the last rebel out of the way, everyone else fell in line, no questions.

They had won.

Considering the sacrifices, it seemed like a hollow victory.

-:-:-:-:-:-

*Two and a half weeks earlier*

They settled around Finn and Sam’s shared bedroom as comfortably as they could. Sam’s bed had yet to be made habitable due to the sporadic messes still jumbled across his comforter. It was okay though, if kind of awkward, but everyone else was nice enough not to say anything about it and even though Sam still felt dumb and he still felt hurt he had a Mike doing his best to burrow into his side, and a Kurt perched perfectly composed against Finn’s desk, and a quarterback sprawled lazily across his own bed where he had collapsed minutes before, too relieved that Sam’s freakout was over.

After they had gotten situated and Kurt had distributed his famously delicious hot chocolate, complete with a dollop of homemade cream on top, it was an unspoken rule for their… whatever this was, to begin. Mike, to his credit, was still (very stubbornly) trying to wrap one of Kurt’s big fluffy blankets around the both of them, refusing to neither set down his cocoa or yield to physics, which made the ordeal about eight minutes longer and one hundred percent more hilarious than it had any right to be. By the end of it, Sam had tears in his eyes (the good ones though, this time) and Mike had a look of self-contented triumph plastered on his face, which he happily shared with Kurt, who had been shooting snide comments at them the entire time. Kurt had enough good humor to allow an exasperated sigh, and even that was enough to bite off the worst of Finn’s tension, and then they were all happy and smiles and not completely and painfully aware of the events that had led them to this point.

At least Sam wasn’t. He wasn’t. That had been- what, twenty minutes ago? He had cocoa now, and friends, he was totally past it. He was past it.

It was why he hadn’t flinched when Kurt began with, “So Dave’s gone…” and then trailed off.

He hadn’t trailed off because of Sam’s non-flinching though (because he hadn’t done that) – Kurt was just a fan of dramatic pauses, that was all, and Sam stared resolutely down into hot chocolate, suddenly not finding it as tempting as before.

The staring contest with his beverage went on for a few awkward minutes before an insistent finger started jabbing into his ribs. When Sam turned to glare at Mike – proximity, you know, it had to be him - he found the dancer’s face resting on his shoulder, giving one of his comically unserious ‘serious’ faces – the one’s that said Sam was being dumb without actually having any ill-intention behind it. Kind of like he was saying, “Sam, you’re being dumb because you are too awesome to flinch at the sound of Dave the newly-crazy person’s name and it is my sworn duty to remind you of this”.

Mike tried to look stern, but it mostly looked like he had something in his eye, so after a few seconds Sam nodded to keep the dancer from hurting himself.

Kurt took that as his cue to continue as well. “So Dave’s gone…stupid, for lack of a better term,” he stated quietly, and his sharp exasperation earned a few chuckles from the rest of the room. “As this, whatever he’s done, seems to be remarkably out of character for him, it is my belief he is actively responded to some recent event.” He turned his eyes towards Mike and Sam’s cocoon of blankets and lifted an eyebrow, asking gently, “As the two who are in the most contact with Dave, is there anything of note that could have instigated such a response?”

Maybe Sam had been a little too eager with his response of, “No,” because Kurt simply raised his other eyebrow. The blond flushed, burying his face into his cocoa to buy him a few seconds to organize his thoughts before adding, “I mean, nothing like, today. It all seemed usual.”

“Yeah, it’s the same for me,” Mike added, trying to be helpful. “Like, aside from him laying down the law on Monday-”

“Monday?” Kurt interrupted, too impatient to wait for things like exposition when there was gossip he didn’t know. He turned a critical eye toward Finn. “Was this what you were referring to earlier?”

Finn, used to Kurt’s scary eye, gave a half-hearted shrug. “Sort of? It was kind of the thing that happened after it, though.”

“The part where Puck was a dumbass,” Mike muttered bitterly into his cocoa, rolling his eyes at the antics of his boyfriend. “Big surprise there.”

Aside from Finn, Puck, and Dave, who had been there, the only other individuals who had known about what happened on Monday were Mike and Tina. Mostly because Puck was shit at keeping secrets (except for the whole getting-Quinn-pregnant thing and the deal where he pined after Mike for like, five months) and partly because Mike would have probably murdered him if the mohawked teen hadn’t told Mike about his best friend’s…Strando-attack.

In the moments Mike hadn’t been a paranoid mess from whatever it was that was eating him this week (and yes, Sam had noticed that, they had all noticed that), the dancer had been a firm presence by Sam’s side, glaring down any of the jocks that so much as glanced in his direction.

Before, when Sam had been feeling…low, he had convinced himself it was just because Mike thought he had failed in his obligation of keeping his pet blond safe, and that it was a matter of honor and disappointment in himself more than it was from friendship.

Yeah it…That hadn’t been that great a feeling.

The dancer didn’t say anything when Sam leaned slightly more into his side, didn’t do anything besides offer a shy, comforting smile, because that was what Mike did. That was why they were friends.

Kurt narrowed his eyes at Mike, unappreciative of his withholding (and come to think of it, hadn’t those two been spending a lot of time together this week?), and opened his mouth to demand an explanation now.

His snappy request was interrupted by Rachel Berry barging into the room with a determined march, staring them all down ferociously as though they were the ones at fault for making her have to interrupt them in the first place. When they had all appropriately been chastised (except Kurt, who continued sipping his drink with a bored look on his face), she turned and gently closed the door behind her, as though apologizing for her dramatic entrance. When they all failed to say anything – Sam was actually still trying to figure out if this was a chocolate-induced hallucination or something – Rachel situated herself on the foot of Finn’s bed, delicately, shooing his feet aside so that she could have room.

“Um…hey Rachel,” Finn began, when it became obvious no one else was going to talk. “You know I always love it when you come over, but we’re kind of-”

“You know what’s really weird?” Rachel asked, and Sam had enough awareness to realize it was one of those questions where she wasn’t actually looking for an answer. “Dave’s off getting coffee right now, and you know who wasn’t invited?”

“You?” Kurt drawled, shooting her a look that said this shouldn’t be surprising. “Though I believe the more important question here is why do you know Dave’s schedule?”

“I gave him a ride,” Rachel answered dismissively.

Finn, not particularly pleased with that answer, furrowed his eyebrows. “Why did you-?”

“His mom took away his car, I’ve been helping him out,” Rachel answered blithely, clearly impatient to get onto the point of whatever this interruption was. “Anyway, the weird thing was, Dave was going to get coffee but he for some odd reason he wasn’t going with Sam, who he does just about everything with, or Mike, who he does just about everything else with, so I thought - because I’m a thinker - how weird that was. And then I thought - since I notice these kinds of things - that Dave seemed kind of upset. No wait-” she snapped her fingers. “Withdrawn, that’s a better word for it. He was withdrawn. And strangely enough he also seemed withdrawn about why he was withdrawn and I, being the good friend that I am, decided to figure out what happened.”

“Is ‘friendship’ in this case a codeword for ‘justified nosiness’?” Kurt asked, expression dubious.

Rachel actually rolled her eyes at that. “Pot. Kettle. Black,” she said, not needing to elaborate. “So I called Sam, who didn’t pick up, and then I called Mike, who didn’t pick up, and then I tried Puck, who answered long enough to tell me to shove off, but eventually I hit pay dirt by calling Tina.”

Beside him, Sam could see Mike’s eyes widen fractionally, and when he looked over to get a better view the dancer had not-so-subtly shoved his face into his cocoa, trying to look innocent.

“In hindsight,” Rachel continued, pointedly ignoring them. “I probably should have called her first.”

“That’s great and all Rachel,” Kurt began, in a very dry way that suggested it wasn’t all that great. “But we’re-”

“And lo and behold,” Rachel talked over him with narrowed eyes, just asking him try cutting her out of this again, she dared him. “It turned out that you two,” she gestured over to Sam, all the while keeping her eyes on Kurt. “Had this big blow out that no one seems to know the reason behind.”

“Umm…” Sam began kind of tentatively, because he sure as hell knew what had happened. “He uh…essentially said I was dumb?”

At that, Rachel turned back to him, but her eyes were softer, kinder. “I meant the actual reason Sam, not whatever line it was Dave fed you. There’s no way he actually thinks that.”

“Here, here,” Kurt agreed, apathetically.

It took Sam a second to realize his dull manner was more of an attempt to provoke Rachel into leaving than it was from Kurt’s actual opinion that what she had said was obvious, and Sam was just dumb for not seeing it-

“Kurt,” Mike said, somewhat reproachfully just as Finn started with, “Rachel-” and they were about five seconds away from a full-on diva-off and Sam didn’t particularly feel up to a stunning round of karaoke today so he took a deep breath, held it in, and released the loudest, highest, you-will-pay-attention-now whistle he had been practicing for years with his mother.

It worked like a charm, earning mixed looks of confusion (Finn), annoyance (Kurt), gratefulness (Rachel), and ow-warn-a-guy-next-time (Mike). At the last one, Sam gave an apologetic shrug, then turned his attention to Kurt.

“It’s okay man, she can stay.” She was Dave’s friend too, after all. And even if they couldn’t be as…frank as they wanted to be, that didn’t mean they had to be dicks and kick Rachel out just because she was trying to be a good friend. Like, she didn’t do it that often, they couldn’t discourage her the few times she tried. That would be like, negative reinforcement, or something.

Normally Sam would make a note to ask Dave about it later, but instead he promised to get off his butt and look for the freakin’ answer himself, because he was a capable human being like that.

It was obvious that Kurt wasn’t entirely happy with this, because you know, the full-gossip-thing now, but eventually he allowed it with a weary sigh, eyes turned up towards the ceiling for strength. Rachel, who was more than used to his dramatics, promptly ignored him and focused her attention on Sam.

“Here’s the low down,” Kurt began impatiently, just as the singer was opening her mouth. “There was a fight, we’re all pretty sure there’s some other motivation behind the fight, and something happened on Monday that we suspect is the reason behind Dave’s recent behavior. All caught up?” Without waiting for her answer, Kurt turned back to Sam. “Now will you share what happened on Monday?”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Rachel added, eyes wide and sincere. It wasn’t necessary, but Sam was pretty sure she just wanted him to know she had understood Kurt’s explanation, and that they didn’t need to hold up on her account.

Or maybe she just thought he was too stupid-

Stop it.

“Sure,” Sam nodded slowly, realizing he couldn’t put it off any longer. It was lucky; he guessed, that the only one who had actually been there for the stuff was Finn, who would probably be okay with letting Sam glaze over a few details.

Which he was going to do. So much.

“I um…well, long story short, Strando and his goons cornered me in the locker room on Monday and Dave kind of went…”

As he struggled for the right thing to say, Finn jumped in, “Psycho-crazy on their asses. Like, no fear dudes; it was pretty impressive to watch.”

As he said this, all eager and excited and so Finn – like how he got some times – the quarterback met Sam’s eyes, nodding briefly to show he understood, that he wouldn’t elaborate anymore than Sam had.

For a second, Sam was overwhelmed by the sheer force of his gratitude, but he somehow managed to keep it from showing somehow, and focused on the rest of the story.

The attack hadn’t really been the important part anyway. The important part, the bad part, that had been later.

“Anyway,” Sam continued before Kurt and Rachel did that thing where they picked and pecked away at you until you were forced to divulge every single detail. “We decided to regroup here, for a movie night and…”

And then Puck was an asshole and Dave overheard him and I’m still confused about that, only now it didn’t matter because Dave possibly-never really cared about me anyway-

Only Sam couldn’t say any of that stuff, mostly because it would be as humiliating as hell, and then there was the little fact that they would have to mention Dave was gay and Rachel didn’t exactly know that.

…huh.

Okay, now Sam was starting to get the reason Kurt had wanted her to leave. And he hadn’t even known what had happened. That was how much smarter-

Shut up. That wasn’t helping.

“And…?” Rachel echoed, eyes wide, leaning on the edge of her seat, a perfect picture of desperation. “Did Dave-?” Somehow her eyes went even wider as she cut herself off, and her gaze flickered to Finn quickly, for like, a second, and then it was intently focused on her hands twisting nervously in her lap, attempting to project innocence.

Which none of them really bought, but then, none of them knew exactly why they would have needed to.

“Did Dave...what?” Kurt prompted, looking interested.

Rachel blinked at him, almost like a goldfish, all vague and stuff, and she tilted her head quizzically. “Hmm?” she tried, sounding confused.

It was clearly an act. An act that would not fly with Kurt.

An act that would not fly with Kurt at all.

The teen in question narrowed his eyes, his mug of hot chocolate abandoned on the desk so he could properly cross his arms, staring Rachel down with a look of total knowing. “Did. Dave. What?”

“Did Dave…do something bad then?” Rachel asked, and even Sam could tell that totally wasn’t her first question, whatever that had been, but it didn’t really matter because now it was back on Sam and he didn’t know what to say either.

He really needed to learn how to think ahead at some point. That would probably be a valuable asset for him one day, if only he could wrap his mind around-

Thankfully, Finn was back in to the rescue, diverting his girlfriend’s attention. “Nah, it was more like Puck.”

Rachel, glad for the distraction, shook off Kurt’s attempt to dissect her with his eyes and looked at Finn with new interest. “Oh? What did he do?”

“He uh…” and now they were back to square one, because Finn didn’t know how to talk around the issue either. “…said some stuff.”

“What stuff?” Rachel, predictably, asked.

“Just stuff,” Finn replied, trying (and very much failing) to be nonchalant.

Beside him, Sam could feel Mike burry his head into his shoulder. Which, while unhelpful, was kind of where Sam was at in this discussion to, so…

He tugged Kurt’s fluffy blanket a little higher over his head.

“What did you think Dave did?” Kurt persisted, tired of Rachel’s backpedaling.

“Nothing,” Rachel insisted – and it was kind of weird that someone who wanted to be a professional actress so badly was so awful at lying but there it was. “What did Puck say?”

“How would I know?” Kurt asked, beginning (heh, beginning, he had been born there) to get annoyed.

Again, Rachel rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Finn. “What did Puck-?”

“Just things,” Finn exclaimed, holding his hands up, fingers spread in a way of surrender. “Nothing-”

“What things?” Rachel asked, eyes narrowed.

“Just-” Finn cut himself off with a furrowed eyebrow, head tilted in a perfect picture of confusion.

Which, wasn’t all that surprising for Finn, at all (hell, sometimes Sam came down for breakfast and saw the guy using it on the cereal box, you know, on those puzzles they made for five-year-olds), it was kind of weird to see it on Rachel.

They stared at each other, heads tilted (both of them, and it was so weird, and kind of adorable, but mostly weird), doing that silent boyfriend-girlfriend thing where they communicated by way of brain waves or something, and then a second later it was surprised faces all around, with realization and more confusion to bring it on home.

For this, Finn sat up.

“How the hell do you-?”

“Brittany,” Rachel gushed, motioning frantically for Finn to spill his deets. “You?”

“Blaine,” Finn responded. They stared at each other for a few more seconds, the gravity of whatever the situation was sinking in on them, and then it was all giggles and laughs and tackle hugs and everyone else being confused.

Warily, Mike poked his head out of the blanket cocoon, sharing a befuddled look with Sam.

Yeah…he had nothing. Nothing at all.

Kurt, whose eyes were closed as he pressed a palm against the side of his head, said quietly, “They both know Dave’s gay. And now that we have this bit of information can we please stop talking in circles?”

“Wait,” that actually did send Sam for a loop. “How does she- I mean, isn’t that important-?”

Another time,” Kurt declared, eyes every inch as threatening as Santana’s were on a bad day. “Right now could we please just focus?”

For a guy who had been apologetic not too long before, Kurt rebounded freakin’ quickly. Not that Sam particularly minded, because he would rather be treated like normal than glass, and this was one step closer to the return of normalization, but still…

Snappy, much?

Continuing to be the most unhelpful person in existence, Mike muttered darkly, “You’re focus needs more focus.”

“Dude,” Sam wrinkled his nose in disgust. “How could you watch the reboot?”

Mike shrugged, completely unapologetic. “Jackie Chan man, can’t mess with a master.”

“That doesn’t-”

The Karate Kid,” Kurt snapped, and the cocooned teens looked over as one to see Rachel and Finn’s matching looks of bewilderment. “Now that we are all on the same page and done quoting movies,” he shot annoyed glare at Mike, “Can we please move on?”

“While I do not completely support the tone with which this was requested,” Rachel said diplomatically, smoothing down the front of her dress. “I admit I would like to know as well. What did Puck say?”

The vinegar versus honey thing Sam’s mom had always gone on about made a lot more sense in action, Rachel’s look earnest and supporting while Kurt was trying to strangle them all with his mind for being so inefficient. It was no surprise who Sam decided to focus his attention on, and did his best to explain what had gone wrong.

“Just…Puck.”

Kurt snorted, rolling his eyes. “Yes, we’ve got that much.”

Sam could feel the heat flaring on the back of his neck, and before he could stumble for some kind of defense Finn was talking, “Dude, lay off. We’ll get there when we get there.”

It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to make Kurt look reproachful, and with a sigh he uncrossed his arms and nodded over towards Sam. “My apologies Sam. As you were.”

And Sam was almost a hundred percent sure Kurt wasn’t being sarcastic about that last part, but he watched Rachel’s eyes just to make sure (because she would know, right?), and when she didn’t shoot any disapproving looks Sam tried it again.

“So Puck he…while Dave had left to…bathroom, I think. Yeah, he had gone to the bathroom, and we were just kind of like chilling, and then Puck started going on about how Dave and I were practically dating.”

Mike let out a bitter laugh, soft enough that only Sam could hear, to let the blond know his opinion on the subject. Based on the way Finn was frowning, he hadn’t been happy about Puck’s behavior either, so it was cool that Sam wasn’t like, all alone in his beliefs. That they weren’t like, off-base.

“And then we argued about that for a bit,” Sam said, pretending not to notice how Kurt had zeroed in on that last statement, staring at him so intently like every little movement could somehow change the meaning of the conversation. “And Dave walked back in about the same time I said that anyone who thought we were dating was stupid.”

Which, to be fair, was completely true in this instance because Puck was the one who insisted they were dating, and Puck was undeniably stupid.

Like, case in point, right there.

“But he wasn’t mad about it,” Sam continued, because he knew the need-more-NOW gazes in Kurt and Rachel’s eyes wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less. “I talked to him afterwards, he was cool. And he was cool about it yesterday and the day before, so it’s not like- I don’t think that was it.”

“What exactly did you say to him afterwards?” Kurt asked – and there, Sam could tell the previous vagueness of everything was bugging the hell out of him, and the fact that he had restrained himself from pushing for greater detail untill now was a feat in itself.

So Sam obliged him, saying carefully, “I uh…I asked him, you know, if he knew I didn’t like him, like that.”

“And he…” Sam continued, stumbling slightly because Mike had tensed up beside him, and Rachel’s smile had become this strained, not-really-a-smile thing and Kurt just looked disappointed, like that was the total wrong thing to do and had Sam brought this all on himself? He could have, easily, but had he-?

“But he wasn’t mad,” Sam pressed, because they needed to know that. “He didn’t look disappointed or angry or upset or anything. He just looked like he always does when he answers questions, just- patient, you know, and then we went back to making fun of the movie. He didn’t say anything.”

Sam would have listened, if Dave had said something. He would have blocked out everything else and done his very best to hear out whatever Dave had to say because Dave had earned that much, through their brief history of friendship. Sam would have wanted to give Dave that much.

He would have tried to give him more too, but Sam knew very well how much he was lacking, and tried to deal out the things he could.

Part of him – the dumb, undeniably dumb-as-Puck dumb, part – had felt a little bit let down at how…nonchalant it had all been. Like this thing that could have possibly been a big deal turned out to be as interesting as dust bunnies to Dave, irrelevant, and quickly passed over.

Sam had known, had always known, it was possible for Dave to like, be attracted to him. Not just on the basis that Sam was a dude, (because you didn’t see him fall in love with every chick just because they were female, right?), but because they were just really good friends. And also, Sam was smokin’. He knew his vigorous work outs earned him abs of steal that were what the ladies called ‘super mega sexy awesome hot’. And his lips, while mocked for size, had been praised (even by Santana, even after the whole gay-thing) as extremely skilled.

In the world of possibilities for Dave to be potentially crushing on, Sam thought he warranted at least a slight once over.

Hey, maybe Dave just cared about what was inside the brain instead-

Sam didn’t even know why he was bothered by this. It wasn’t like he was gay – no matter what Puck thought. Yeah, he had made out with Mike, and Dave, but he had been drunk and Mike was hot enough to blur the line of sexuality right? And Dave was Dave and- he didn’t know, maybe Sam’s subconscious had been like ‘That is a dude that will probably welcome make outs’ because it knew Dave was gay and Sam had been horny or something, but that wasn’t the point. The point was Puck was wrong and Sam wasn’t gay and hello, apparently he had been madly thinking through a very awkward silence that was just beginning to dawn on him, because everyone else in the room seemed to be doing their very best impression of office furniture, or something. Except that Rachel looked dismayed. And Kurt looked annoyed.

And somehow Sam had messed up without even knowing he had messed up, and how skilled was that?

Rachel seemed to come back to herself somehow, eyes snapping away from a distant stare off into space and back to Sam, blinking a few times. “And then…?”

“And then?” Sam echoed. Wasn’t that the obvious part? “And then two days later he…” In that instant, Sam couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t stay sitting and thinking and reliving that because they couldn’t be right, Dave had been so- “Nothing. Just, you weren’t there!” With an apologetic glance to Mike, Sam shrugged his side of the blanket away and launched himself to his feet, cocoa splashing dangerously close to the edge of his mug. “He was so… just him, okay, like it was normal and we were talking and then all of the sudden-” he made an abrupt turn on his heel, and that time his now lukewarm chocolate sloshed onto his shirt, but he just didn’t give a care. “It was like this one thing changed and he- and I saw it was all different. Like everything we had done was the same but it was different because he hadn’t done it because we were friends- he wasn’t even trying to be mean about it-”

And oh- oh, Sam got it.

He really, really got it.

He got how Dave could have been so casual about the thing on Monday, could be so unaffected because even though he liked dudes, Sam would never meet those qualifications because to Dave, he was, and had always been, a duty, and therefore not a person. Not a candidate for…that stuff.

He knew what they had been saying. That Dave was a nice guy and he was, he was a nice guy, so he wouldn’t have intentionally hurt Sam, but he didn’t…

“Dave doesn’t lie.”

Azimio had sounded so undeniably sure of himself. And he was right, they were all right. Dave didn’t lie. Dave didn’t hurt people on purpose (anymore), Dave was good.

He just wasn’t good for people like Sam, who caused messes in a hopelessly clumsy way, as easy as breathing, but with no ill-intent. And at the end of the day people could laugh, they would understand, they wouldn’t hold it against them, but…

When it came down to it, messes needed to be cleaned up.

Sam stared down at the front of his shirt, pinching the brown, soggy fabric between his fingers, rough and damp, and struggled against a frightening urge to cry again.

“You weren’t there,” Sam said again, ignoring any arguments that they tried to throw his way, any words they had. They didn’t matter. “I’m gonna- I’m gonna go shower,” he decided.

Blindly, he reached behind him and tugged a random pile off of his bed, figuring there had to be enough stuff there to get him covered.

“Use my room,” Kurt offered, generous. Caring. Taking care of Sam.

Nodding dumbly, the blond followed the order, taking his mostly-empty mug with him, trying to pretend they weren’t going to talk about him the moment he left the room.

He realized that they didn’t do these things to be mean, they did them to be nice. They did them because Sam was their friend, just like Sam would do anything he could to return the favor, because he liked them and wanted good things for them.

But Dave…

Dave was his friend. Dave was his friend in the sense that Dave took him on as a sidekick, a distraction, and maybe he liked Sam as a person, and maybe they were real friends, but unlike everyone else – Dave hadn’t ever been put into the mindset of desperately needing Sam just to boost their numbers for Glee Club. Dave was never conditioned with that need, so when he came he could pick and choose. He could…only do so much, Sam guessed, could only comprehend so much crazy.

And Sam was good, Sam was something Dave could handle, Sam was something Dave could do right. Not to take the blond off of everyone else’s hands, not as a debt to pay, but because Dave was nice and Sam had tried. Because Dave fought for the underdog.

Because Sam was the guy stupid enough to get stripped down in a locker room and Dave was the guy who did the rescuing. Like Batman, saving his Robin.

And the thing was, the truly, undeniable thing was, even if everyone in the world said they were partners, they all knew Batman was the one that called the shots at the end of the day.

And the Robins of the world – the Sams – were expected to follow, because they were the ones that had to be protected. They were the ones that weren’t enough to protect themselves.

That was the way it worked.

-:-:-:-:-:-

For a few minutes, no one said anything. Finn waited, figuring Kurt or Rachel would eventually make a move to, but it seemed like they were content to just like, sit in silence for the rest of eternity while Mike made pitifully sad faces at the door Sam had just exited out of.

Well, that wouldn’t do.

“We’ve got to fix this,” he said, loud and – honestly - way more determined than he felt. “We have to make this right.”

“How?” Kurt asked, who, for once, looked about as lost as the rest of them. “He doesn’t even know he broke Dave’s heart.”

“He doesn’t even know his is broken either,” Mike added quietly.

They turned, and there must have been some doubt (besides Finn, because Finn’s lone doubt would have been expected), because the dancer kept going. “I know that look,” he explained, eyes saddened. “I have had that look. Sam just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Then what do we do?” Finn asked.

He didn’t even know which of them he was asking specifically, he just knew he didn’t have anything to offer.

His own experiences for love were not really things worth referencing.

“Time,” Rachel said, allowing the word to hang in the air for their consideration. “This isn’t something that’s going to fix itself overnight. They need time and until then, we support them. We back them up and try to guide them towards the things everyone else sees until they can find it for themselves. We don’t let them get lost.” She aimed the last part at Mike, who would, they all knew, be Sam’s number one support system for the unforeseeable future.

Rachel flicked her gaze towards Finn briefly, letting him know this was his responsibility too, then focused on the room at large.

“For now, that is all we can do. And yes,” she continued, just as Kurt was opening his mouth. “That sucks, I know.”

Kurt raised his eyebrows again. “I was going to put it more eloquently.”

“I paraphrased.” There was a smile in her voice as she said it, accompanied with a completely unapologetic shrug Finn just kind of adored, because she was so expressive with such little things, and that was all kinds of amazing.

Finn,” Kurt warned in that voice that threatened nausea.

The quarterback smiled. “I’m not sorry.”

They held onto the banter, letting the easy-ness of it kind of wash over them because it was familiar, it was something they could do, for just a few seconds longer.

Finn did it, because he knew the moment would end soon, and when it did they would be back to dealing with things they couldn’t just fix with a song or an intervention or a pep talk. Something that wasn’t concrete and didn’t have a definite solution.

And for just a few seconds longer, Finn wanted to pretend that wasn’t a part of his world.

Chapter Text

“I decided I was overreacting.”

Dave blinked, hand posed against his locker door as he considered its contents, wondering if he had actually heard that right, or if this was just one of those instances where his mind felt like being especially cruel to him. He would worry about possible dementia, but Dave knew he merely suffered from a case of misplaced optimism, perpetually hoping and conditioning himself to believe that there still was a light at the end of this tunnel.

Normally, he would have assumed it was another one of “those times”, and gone to Blaine and asked him to talk about musical stuff, allowing the soothing tones to wash over him and shoo the phantom voice away, but usually Dave’s hope-hallucinations did not come complete with a full representation of Sam leaning against the locker next to him, posture the boneless kind of relaxed that it tended towards when he was feeling open and sociable.

Dave was tempted to reach out and touch him, to see if Sam was really there this time. In the interest of not seeming psychotic, and you know, in case it actually was Sam, Dave kept his hands to himself.

If he slid his foot out to nudge the other teen’s shoe though, to confirm he wasn’t imagining things – well, that was just between him and the universe, right?

“Umm…excuse me?” Dave offered after the Sam-confirmation had been completed, tilting his head to the side.

It took a great deal of effort to keep a slight tone of condescension in his words, after being deprived of Sam’s company these past few weeks, but he managed.

Apparently that feeling of longing was mutual, because his efforts were completely lost on Sam.

The blond blinked at him, almost bashful, then shrugged. “I over-reacted, about the notebook thing,” he clarified, as though Dave wasn’t intimately familiar with the elaborate sham he had delivered to bring them to this. “You’re right,” he added.

“I…was right?” Dave echoed, genuinely confused this time.

Was Sam actually…was he being serious right now? Or was this just some half-cocked scheme aiming for payback, like he would let pull Dave back in and then wham try to pull the rug out from under him as Dave had done, returning betrayal for betrayal.

It sounded too convoluted to ever be considered Sam’s plan – Kurt’s maybe, or Rachel’s – but not Sam’s.

Through process of elimination, that left this encounter to be as genuine as it appeared, which…worried the hell out of Dave. Sam should not be willing to forgive him. Sam should not, if he were sound of mind and had any amount of self-respect, be even in the moderate vicinity of Dave. The blond had spent the last few weeks avoiding Dave, sticking to Mike’s side like glue when he could, and turning to Finn and Kurt when he couldn’t. The only times they had even been in the same room together had been for glee rehearsals, and Sam spent the majority of those refusing to turn his eyes even in Dave’s general direction, like even that was too big of a risk for eye contact.

That Sam – the Sam of like, yesterday, as far as Dave knew – should not be talking to Dave right now.

There had been instances in their separation, moments in the hallway when he thought the other teen might have been staring at him, considering him with confused eyes, but those moments had been few and far between, a few brief seconds down the hall. A few times, Dave had even caught him in action, his eyes a little glazed over in thought, but Sam always snapped back to himself with a furious flush, stalking away before Dave could so much as shoot him a questioning look.

He had thought maybe it would lead to Sam approaching him eventually, but not like this. Not like they were still on good terms.

Not like they were friends.

“You were just trying to watch out for me,” Sam was saying, shrugging again, helplessly, a tiny smile tugging at his lips as though to say ‘what can you do?’. “And I overreacted to that, so I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry.” Dave was trying desperately hard to make sense of these words.

Sam, unaware of his trepidation, smiled brightly. “Yep.”

And then, to bring it on home because it just wasn’t surreal enough, Sam added, “Do you forgive me?”

Did Dave…forgive him?

There was a processing error when it came to discerning his apology, because it couldn’t, Sam couldn’t apologize to Dave, he had been an asshole. Dave would know, he had practiced, he had practiced and hated himself for being everything he couldn’t stand in a person, had created this fake kindness that had been horrible to wear and Sam was just standing there with this dopey smile on his face like it was all his fault they hadn’t spoken in roughly three weeks.

Something about that made Dave want to grab Sam by the shoulders and just shake him until he saw how utterly moronic he was being. He was mad that Sam could value himself so lowly, and he was mad that Sam would compromise himself so much just for Dave and he was mad that despite his efforts Sam was still willing to run back to him, even though he didn’t like Dave, not like that, because Dave meant that much to him and it was infuriating.

How could he respect himself so little?

Dave hoped – because it was the only thing he could hope – that time had diminished the sharpness of his betrayal. Perhaps Sam had been hurting badly the first week, and then he was getting over it the second week and then they were moving onto the third and he thought, why was he being mad in the first place? What Dave had done wasn’t so bad. Remember all the good stuff he had done with Dave? Clearly, Sam had been looking too much into this.

The worse thought, the less pleasant ideal, was that perhaps Sam was exactly aware of how Dave had been “handling” him, but at this point he found he didn’t actually care. That he was willing to take the patronizing condescension if it meant that he would have his hang-out buddy back, and Dave wasn’t sure what that said about Sam’s level of toleration for the sake of a willing company, but he knew he did not like it. Not at all.

He was standing in the hallway, adorned in the garments initially created for his own selfish protection, falsely-promising shelter for things he hadn’t even believed in, feeling one hundred percent like the monster he was and Sam was standing there, compromising himself for the sake of Dave.

It was horrible in a way unbefitting of words.

“Apology accepted?” Sam asked with a smile, his eyebrows rising in a perfect expression of – not just hope, but expectation, like this was merely a formality. Like he knew Dave would take him back, just like he always did, because they were pals.

And Dave had no idea what to do.

He hadn’t planned for anything like this happening, he hadn’t ever considered that Sam would be willing to forgive him, let alone apologize. This had…would Sam have come back on his own? It didn’t feel like it, maybe he had been pushed by someone else – Kurt, or maybe Zizes or Santana, who all suspected – but the fact was that he was here, now, and Dave had to do something about it.

How should he approach this?

He couldn’t be an outright asshole, that would diminish the example he was trying to set. As well as he had the jocks in hand, they were, expectedly, less than pleased with affairs, and liked to push boundaries when they could. Simply acting like a dick to push Sam away would only give them ammunition to fight back, would encourage the behavior Dave was trying so hard to abolish.

It wasn’t an option.

Dave considered, very briefly, allowing Sam back in for real – but banished the thought as soon as it was upon him for the very same reasons he couldn’t just bully his way out of this. Dave ‘acting out’, in a sense, shifted all the unrest and ill-will towards himself. Rejoining Sam’s company would only make the other teen a target again, and Dave couldn’t- not with Strando still trying to act like he owned the world- he couldn’t take that risk. Sam needed to be safe. Sam needed things Dave couldn’t give him by being nearby.

They couldn’t just go back to the way things were.

It left one option, and Dave despised it, loathed it with a passion unrivaled by any other concept, but it was, unfortunately, his only alternative.

He would utilize the very tactic he had selected for originally pushing Sam away. That edge, that attitude he hated, the one that diminished Sam’s character by simply…existing, he would use that. He would be Good Guy Dave who was kind and patient and generous and kept good ole’ Sam from getting tangled up in Hijinks, too good a guy to let that stuff go by unchecked. Don’t worry everyone, Dave had this, he could watch Sam, that guy was entertaining, that guy was great. Look at Dave being so wonderful, wonderful with Sam; bless his heart, not the brightest crayon in the box, is he? It was okay though; he meant well, they all knew that. Dave knew that. It was why he stuck around.

Dave hated it. He hated it. But he couldn’t be an ass and make Sam leave and he couldn’t…as much as he simultaneously wanted and didn’t want to have Sam back- he couldn’t, it was too much- so Dave had to do this. He had to remind Sam why it had stopped in the first place.

He had to remind Sam he was so much better than this.

The silence dragged on, and Dave used it to gradually change his confusion into consideration, the tension setting across his shoulders as he added the subdued hints of is this worth it, wondering if Sam caught it, conflicted as to whether there should be more or less and this was already terrible. Terrible, and Dave wanted to stop.

He wouldn’t though.

“Okay,” Dave said eventually, trying to project like this, warmth, he guessed, that Sam had finally come around and realized how wrong he had been. “I suppose I can take you back.”

Sam didn’t even blink, his smile grew instead, dangerous and breathtaking and eager. He fell in line like he had a hundred times before, matching Dave stride for stride, picking up the routine as though there had been no pauses, making up for lost time by talking a mile a minute- happy, sharing.

In the appropriate pauses, Dave would make a few patronizing remarks, layering on this self-satisfied smugness, like he was glad to have his sidekick back. He kept it kind, kept it well-intended, and was nothing less than polite when any crucial straying ears lingered. Their glares kept to him, no interest in Sam, and they walked on.

The blond made no comment on Dave’s ‘new’ behavior.

He just talked and smiled, like nothing was wrong.

Which, in itself, indicated the staggering depths of just how inescapable wrong it actually was.

-:-:-:-:-:-

It had taken time - a lot of time, actually, and most of it was spent moping and just not really knowing how to deal - before Sam was willing to approach Dave again.

It was exactly how he remembered it, how it had always been.

It hurt, in the same way any self-delusion hurt, but Sam shook it off when it became obvious that Dave wasn’t- and had never been- a jackass about it. Dave had stood up for him; Dave had been his partner-in-crime. Dave had recruited Mike and Kurt to hatch an elaborate plan, all because Sam had simply wanted something. And if you thought about it that way, and ignored some of the other stuff, it was kind of cool.

Like, sure, now Sam actually heard the slight condescension in Dave’s tone or whatever, but it didn’t really matter because Dave didn’t mean anything by it. As far as Sam could tell, he didn’t even do it on purpose, it just sort of happened. Because he was worried about Sam. He wanted Sam to be informed so he did that and he was thorough because he didn’t want Sam to miss anything, because he was a cool guy like that. Just like he had always been a cool guy.

And really, if Sam just ignored that stuff, it was exactly how it used to be. Dave still listened, added his own two cents with just as loud a laugh (even if Sam wasn’t sure if it was at him rather than with him half the time, but then he figured, at least he was entertaining, right?).

He knew, because Sam wasn’t like, completely out-of-touch, that Kurt and the others probably wouldn’t be all that happy about this. If they noticed. He didn’t think they would though, since this was how things had always been, because “Dave doesn’t lie” and “He would never think you’re dumb” so clearly, this was just, status quo, and Sam recognized it. Maybe, a little down the line, he could mention it to Dave- like, say he understood, and maybe then he would back off on the slight pretention? But even if he didn’t, Sam guessed it wasn’t all that bad. He was just really happy to have Dave back, even if it wasn’t- even if the glass had been shattered a little bit, and the world wasn’t a beautiful as he had originally dreamed it to be.

The weeks he hadn’t spoken to Dave weren’t that great for Sam.

He hadn’t really realized all the stuff he had lost when he cut off all connection with Dave, but apparently spending most of your free time with a person sort of developed a kind of dependency that sucked up most of your schedule. Which was fine, when Dave was there. Sans-Dave, Sam had to figure out just exactly what the hell he did before the whole Puck-Mike-intervention-of-DOOM thing that had caused them to interact in the first place and- strangely enough, Sam couldn’t remember what that was.

He knew it was…something, but whenever he looked back on it all he could come up with was a whole bunch of nothing- which was sad, and wasteful, and made Sam think of how much better things had been with- and then he was off down that certain path towards depression again. Awesome. That was Sam’s favorite.

The worst thing though, about not being around Dave, was that cutting off all contact with the guy didn’t stop Sam’s brain from thinking about him constantly, or maybe that was backwards. Like, now that he didn’t have Dave around to distract him Sam had nothing but time to think over everything that had happened. All the stuff that they had said- well, the stuff he had said that made Rachel look so broken and Kurt look so pitying…Sam thought about it. Over and over, like a movie that kept looping.

And Sam, he knew he wasn’t really the best at the whole ‘thinking’ thing, considering where it had gotten him, but that didn’t seem to matter because even though one part of him was like “Stop doing this, you’re bad at it” the other part couldn’t spare any attention to stuff that wasn’t Dave. Or, him and Dave. Him with Dave, back when. In the “good ole’ days” of just a few hours ago, then days ago, then weeks ago.

It wouldn’t stop. And after awhile, Sam got the message and let the thing run its course, because who was he to fight the impossible?

It had come to him late one night, when he had been trying to drown out the noise of Finn’s snoring with…anything. He had tried music at first, but his mind refused to settle on one genre, let alone one song, and it kept fluctuating until it was a massive stream of jumbled noise. Sam abandoned that in favor of being angry, because anger, he thought, while not particularly useful, was something he could control. Could understand. He knew why he was angry and what he was angry at and writing up annoyed rants in his head that he would never share with Dave was a decent enough way to pass the time.

It wasn’t until he got to the point where he was trying to decide if he should have a wild declaration (in his hypothetical bitch-out) and then skip on to strangulation, or if he would just open with that and deliver his ultimatum in a vicious whisper while Dave slowly sank into unconsciousness, when Sam realized he had really been spending too much time with Mike. Those were totally his tactics.

Not the most inappropriate choice then, if he considered it. Mike was annoyed with Puck almost all the time. In fact, the weeks before they had started dating had been crazy for pretty much everyone because of all the damn breakdowns that kept being thrown around, because neither of them knew how to communicate their feelings (or so Tina had explained to Sam once, because she was kind and understood he wasn’t smart enough to get it on his own). According to her, their refusal to acknowledge their feelings had led to such a gargantuan build up that they had to get the emotions out some other way and they did it stupidly (her words) and the rest of them had to deal with the consequences.

Sam wouldn’t say that his and Dave’s situation was anything like that, because Dave hadn’t really done any, you know, exploding. That particular gift was all on Sam. He was the one who had freaked out in the choir room, then freaked out on Mike and the others, then freaked out in the bedroom…all that stuff had been him, and even if they were breakdowns almost worthy of Mike (the dancer’s rant would forever be the melt down to top all melt downs), it had been totally excluded to himself.

Dave had been just fine. Completely unaffected.

There was something about that thought that filled Sam with a kind of hollowness that somehow ached in his bones, and he had to wonder why he was reacting so much to this, why this was bothering him so much when Dave wasn’t invested enough in what they had to even spare a moment to apologize.

And then Sam had to consciously ignore using the phrase “what they had” because he really, really couldn’t deal with that right now.

He was beginning to sound like Mike had, back then. After Puck had done his worst. All self-pitying and sad and whiny. Yeah, Sam loved Mike like a brother but the guy had been whining, for sure, but it hadn’t mattered so much at the time because they had known it was all going to be okay in the end. It wasn’t going to be permanent.

Where the hell did Sam get off reaching Mike’s level of depression? He wasn’t secretly-in-love with Dave; he wasn’t even gay, so why did he care?

After thinking about this – because apparently sleeping wasn’t a thing Sam did anymore – Sam came to the conclusion that he really missed having his super-bro around.

And then, when even Sam’s thick brain couldn’t manage to completely buy into that pitiful excuse, Sam was forced to think about what the actual reason was. He knew it was out there, it was in his head, so why did it-? What did it-?

He kept re-running that moment in the kitchen over and over again, the look Dave had on his face when he asked- and yeah, okay, Sam guessed that would have been a horrible thing to ask Dave if he had actually liked Sam, but he didn’t, so it was good. Just like now, Dave hadn’t reacted, hadn’t even looked like the idea occurred to him, because, you know, Sam, and there was this feeling, this…

It was disappointment. Sam tried really hard for a really long time to think that it was anything else – apathy, relief, acceptance – but none of those were even close to a fit because that mixed feeling of hollowed-sadness, that was straight up disappointment. Sam had been upset that he hadn’t garnered more of a reaction than a slight pause, because he should have been worth more than that, and maybe he had been slightly depressed by it, and he hadn’t wanted to know why.

At first, Sam had just thought he was a vain asshole, and left the matter at that. He was a stud; this should earn him some consideration, right?

But it hadn’t. Not a single bit. And the disappointment mingled with this horrible humiliation, which kind of seemed like an overreaction, even for him, like Mike’s overreactions-

Sam wasn’t disappointed because of aesthetic expectations, Sam was disappointed because he had, in a very screwed up way, wanted Dave to actually like him.

Like, first grade like-him, like-him, the way Dave would like a guy, for everything they were, and not just their outsides but their insides and how messed up was that? How could Sam be such a reject? He should know better.

And it was tempting to just, be angry with himself, after that. To call himself dumb and stupid and easily confused because that was easy, because he had convinced himself he had wanted this thing he probably didn’t want, and that was insulting to people like Mike and Kurt and Puck and Santana and Blaine and Brittany because it wasn’t real, not like it was with them, it wasn’t true, Sam was just swayed by ideas and gestures because he was dumb-

But he yelled.

He had yelled, so much.

And then he had cried and he was still, actually, crying, from time-to-time because things snuck up on him and he didn’t know what to do- but the fact was, the truth was, Sam had freaked out to a ridiculous extent, to a degree that almost matched Mike on his worst day, and that seriously meant something.

Sam might be dumb, but even he wasn’t that stupidly unaware. He didn’t go with the flow that easily.

He liked Dave.

It was stupidly obvious, when he looked back on it. Sam had stopped trying to hit on girls, had stopped trying to date altogether and damn it, that meant Puck was right, but right in a good way for once because Sam knew these feelings were true, knew they were, for once, real and deep and valuable.

To him, at least.

Lord knew they didn’t matter much to Dave.

And that was why he had been acting like a bipolar ass-hat. That was why this was so difficult. Even the new discovery of being bi – he still liked girls, he knew that, but Dave called to him something fierce – didn’t seem to hold much weight against the crippling depression that came from the fact that Dave really didn’t need him to get by.

In fact, in the time they had been apart, Dave had managed to restart the Bully Whips, even getting some of the football players involved, and cut down on unfortunate locker room mishaps and dumpster dives for everyone. Even when Sam was mad at him, Dave still risked his neck to do something insanely nice and good because Sam had been attacked and that wasn’t okay.

Or maybe the blond was reading too much into the timing, but he liked to think maybe it was a result of him. It seemed nice.

Reversely, Sam had used that time trying to work up the courage to just talk to Dave again, wondering if he could even do that without feeling like a loser.

Dave had to like him right? Just, a little bit. The other teen had spent way too much time with Sam willingly to not at least find him entertaining. Sam could work with that. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do from there, but he figured he would play it by ear.

Well, he had one amazingly insane idea, and he really wanted to use it, but he wasn’t sure if Dave would take him seriously and if he didn’t- if he suspected it was a joke, Sam wasn’t sure he would be able to just laugh it off and walk away, carrying on as though things were normal.

But fuck it, he wanted this. He really, really wanted this and maybe if he just laid all his cards down on the table and explained it to Dave, maybe if he showed just how much he had thought this out, maybe Dave would actually listen.

He knew the odds were greater that Dave wouldn’t reciprocate, at all, but there wasn’t a lot of time left. Dave would be graduating soon and if Sam didn’t at least try he would hate himself forever.

Sam didn’t want to live with regrets. He didn’t want to keep going on thinking that Dave thought so little of him. He wanted, and was going to get, damn it, some closure. Man-to-man, best friend to best friend. They would do this, and to hell with obnoxiously complex strategies for reuniting and miscommunications and stubbornly licking your wounds in silence, Sam was going to do this his way, up front, no subtleties, no confusion.

Sam was going to do this the right way.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“So, I wanted to talk to you,” Sam was saying, his grin tauntingly cheerful. “You know, privately.”

He nodded off down a certain hallway, towards the Auditorium, leaving Dave with no choice but to numbly follow, very much at the end of his rope.

What the hell was going on here? He was beginning to think that maybe Sam was calling his bluff, but honestly, Sam wasn’t that great at lying. He didn’t have the heart for it. This was the guy that had a long and rather creative list of adjectives reserved for Kurt’s wardrobe whenever he was asked his opinion and he didn’t want to say ‘bad’. No joke, Dave had witnessed the blond ramble on for a good solid three minutes under Kurt’s critical gaze, going on and on about ‘functionality’ and ‘uniqueness’ and ‘bold decisions’ when half the time Dave knew Kurt was just screwing with Sam.

Sam didn’t have it in him to fake Dave through five seconds of conversation, let alone fifteen minutes without any slip ups or amusement slithering into his gaze, so this was, for real, Sam’s legitimate behavior right now. He was completely accepting of Dave the douchebag. It was just like old times. Just like old times and Dave wanted to strangle someone.

Sam shouldn’t be this willing to hang out with Dave, the older teen didn’t care how awesome their previous time together had been, Dave was acting like a dick and that should be acknowledged. That should not result in blissful ignorance that was occasionally peppered with sad looks Sam didn’t think he saw, because Dave noted each and every one of them in his own private ledger, an accumulated tally of sins for which there was no recompense.

Dave was still trying to puzzle out the unfathomable enigma that was Sam when the blond led them through the backstage area in a confident gate, weaving them around a couple of corners until he realized, with a start, they were in the costume closet.

Where it had, in a way, all began.

Sam started with no preamble, wringing his hands in a mindless twist as he attempted to stare Dave down. “Look, I’ve got something important I want to say to you, and I need you to like, hear me out, okay?”

“Of course Sam,” Dave said, face barely composed in Sam’s responding flinch. “Real talk, right?”

The shame of twisting something that had been theirs- had been Sam’s- would probably stick with Dave for a long time, and he sincerely hoped Sam would be able to recover from Dave’s –horrible-despicable-detestable-loathsome– actions one day, that it would, in a fearsome rally, be this day.

But instead of damage it had been wreaking on Dave, the phrase seemed to shake something in Sam, seemed to make him remember the good, and ignore the warped, evil connotation Dave had been trying to implant.

It wasn’t fair, distance and memories were supposed to compound the bad and obliterate the good, why hadn’t that worked on Sam?

Then again, Sam rarely did what Dave expected of him. It was one of the qualities that made him so distinctly Sam.

“Real talk,” the blond repeated with a nod, and the smile that followed wasn’t fair in any rulebooks, the unrestrained fondness of it something Dave would never have embellished in his own mind, that was how true- how real it was – and Sam didn’t even like him.

“I know you…” Sam looked away, gnawing on his lip, uncertain. When he looked back, his eyes were determined. “I wanted to thank you, for being my friend.”

Dave fought off a wave of panic because that sounded an awful lot like a prelude to “too bad we won’t be doing that anymore” and then Sam would be leaving and even though it was exactly what he wanted, in his head because he had to use his head right now, there was no part of Dave that could possibly remain whole after that declaration and he knew it.

“It’s…it’s no trouble Sam,” Dave managed to say, voice surprisingly steady. The smile he plastered on was nothing like Sam’s, and it probably wasn’t even as asshole-ish as it should be, but the fact that he managed to hold onto one at all was a feat to be celebrated.

He had to work with what he had right now.

Luckily, Sam seemed too distracted by his own thoughts to focus on Dave, and the sham lived on. “I know it’s not,” Sam allowed, rubbing a hand across the back of his head. His eyes stayed glued to the floor. “But we’re a good team and you- you listened to me, and you hung out with me and tutored me and you didn’t have to do any of that stuff-”

“We’re friends,” Dave interrupted, coming dangerously close to sounding like himself, not this monster.

It got Sam to look back at him with a smile, a real one, so he couldn’t say he really regretted it. “I know,” Sam repeated, and the smile stretched into a full-blown grin, and Dave was gone, gone. “We’re friends. But you were- you are, a really good friend to me, and I wanted to let you know that I…” He looked away again, and Dave had to be imagining the flush that colored his cheeks because Sam didn’t do that, there was no reason for him to do that now, but a blush was a blush and it was just as adorable as- “I wanted you to know how much I value that,” Sam said, quietly.

He looked back at Dave, and he really was blushing (what the hell was that?), all shy and bashful and when had Dave fallen asleep? He couldn’t be awake right now, none of this was adding up.

“And I think,” Sam continued, and that stubborn determination was coming back, setting in his brows, schooling away any timidity with the need to get things done. “I think you like spending time with me too, or you wouldn’t do it so much.”

The statement lingered, and Dave tried to center himself around it, understanding that part of this was a challenge. An attempt to make him disagree, to see if Dave was that far gone. This was more Sam, more up-front, no trickery. This was Sam daring him to expose himself.

Even if it went against everything he was trying to accomplish, Dave found he could not lie.

“Of course I like hanging out with you Sam,” Dave countered in a rush, the words ‘hanging out with’ thrown in at the last second, his filter somehow still functional. “I wouldn’t…”

I wouldn’t have done all this for you if I didn’t.

Dave couldn’t say that, but Sam seemed to gain what he needed from the unspoken words as it was, figuring Dave meant he wouldn’t spend time with him otherwise, and Dave wanted to correct that but he didn’t, because Sam was smiling, because Sam was…

Walking away. Apparently.

Or, walking deeper into the costume room which was- were they done? Dave knew Sam had a short attention span, but he thought they were having a really meaningful conversation and what if he had deluded himself into that? This could have been nothing more than Sam trying to get a read on the depths of his condescension and Dave hated himself so much right now. Him and his stupid over-thinking brain.

A flicker of movement brought Dave’s attention off of the floor, which had been on the receiving end of a fierce glare. He glanced up, realizing Sam had returned and…

Promptly forced his brain to start thinking again, because he had no frame of reference for which to properly correlate what he was processing with what the hell had just been happening.

Sam had a guitar strapped across his chest. He must have hidden it behind some of the costumes or something, because he definitely had not had it when they had come in here and now he was staring at Dave with these sickeningly eager eyes, hands restless on the polished wood and- oh god, he was going to sing something.

Dave was about to be serenaded.

Sam was about to go all New Directions on him and sing a song about friendship or how they would be friends until the end or how he would always be there for Dave or something and Dave was going to have to listen to him sing his friendship song and why was Sam singing a friendship song when Dave had been acting like a psychopath?

The blond opened his mouth, positively beaming, fingers positioned accordingly, and something inside of Dave snapped.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

It startled the blond (hell, it startled both of them), causing him to stumble back, but Dave didn’t even let him get a word in, too desperate to get his questions out. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What?” Sam asked, looking confused. “I’m gonna sing for you, what does it look-?”

“But why?” Dave knew this was coming from out of nowhere; he knew he was leaving Sam to flounder, but he didn’t care, he wanted answers damn it. “Why the hell are you singing to me? Why did you plant your guitar and lure me here to sing to me when I have been acting awful?”

Shit, he didn’t mean-

Dave looked at Sam, the blond’s eyes as comically wide as his must have been, he hadn’t meant to say it but it had just sort of slipped out-

The confusion (the adorable bewilderment that Dave would, most likely never see again) quickly turned to agitation and then fury when Sam finally processed it, mouthing the last word as though it were a foreign language, and turning hurt eyes onto Dave.

“What, you know about that?”

“Of course I do,” Dave said, allowing the desperation to overwhelm whatever rational thought he had left, because that would make this bearable. “I have been the one doing it, why wouldn’t I know?”

That earned him a sputter, and then Sam’s hands were clenching around the neck of the guitar, strings biting into his palms as he glared down Dave. “Wait, you’ve been an ass on purpose? Why?”

“Because-” it’s not safe, it’s hard to be around you, why do you care so much- “-I don’t...I don’t want to be around you anymore.”

If Dave thought plan pretend-to-be-the-worst had been, in fact, the worst, watching Sam’s face crumble in the wake of that admission easily overcame that burden. His eyes were wet and shining and his grip against his guitar slackened with his unrepentant fury with a sudden slump of his shoulders. Defeated.

He wasn’t even asking why though.

He should be, right? That should be something worth questioning. There was no way he could just think he was…what, worthless enough that Dave would want to leave purely on the quality of their friendship?

Sam wasn’t…Dave hadn’t broken him that much, had he?

“Did…did you know?”

It was asked in such a quiet voice that Dave almost missed it, so estranged from the vibrancy that was Sam to have reasonable equivalence. Dave suspected he had imagined it, but then Sam was staring at him, red eyed, gaze like a gaping wound, and he continued.

“Did you know I uh…like you?”

“Of course I-’

“That I’m attracted to you?” he continued with his shaky admittance, spitting out the word with a flinch, refusing to look at Dave.

For once, Dave had no words.

His body was overcome with a sudden numbness, like he was suspended in a void, an outside participant watching his body. “…What?”

He must have heard him wrong. There was no way he had said- that wasn’t what he had said-

Sam didn’t seem to hear him, too busy mumbling to himself. “Of course you knew, you’re Dave so you- you were trying to give me any easy out right? You were trying to- because you’re you, you thought it was better for me to be mad than humiliated-”

“Sam, that’s not-” How was this going so sideways? They hadn’t been separated that long, how could Sam think this?

Someone had to have been talking to Sam, Dave was going to kill Kurt, it had to be Kurt-

“-and I didn’t even take the god damn hint.” Sam was ranting now, pacing aimlessly along the length of the costume closet, still refusing to look at Dave. “Shit, I’m sorry Dave, I shouldn’t have- I didn’t mean to ruin our friendship-”

“Sam, what the hell are you talking about?” Dave crossed over to the blond in three huge strides, his hands outstretched, palms out in a placating motion.

“You know I like you,” Sam choked out. Distraught intermingled with regret and loathing. “You know and you don’t feel the same way so you did this and I’m sorry, I won’t bother you, I won’t-”

“Sam,” Dave interrupted, focusing on the part of this he actually did know, intimately well. “You don’t like me.”

Of all the things Dave had said today, that seemed to be the one that threw Sam the most.

The blond paused, tears- damn it, he was actually crying – flowing unapologetically as Sam blinked at him, confused.

“Dave, what-?”

This was, it would hurt, it was always going to hurt, but Dave kept his tone calm as he delivered his explanation, hands posed in front of him. “I don’t know who’s been talking to you, or what they said, but Sam, you don’t like me, not like that. I don’t care what Puck said – drunk people do dumb things – but what we had was just a really good friendship, and no one should be making you think it was anything more than that.”

Even if Dave wanted it so badly to be true, he knew, so well, that Sam wasn’t capable of that. The blond had made it clear, Dave had been deluding himself. He didn’t have more of a shot now than he had back when Sam hated him, and he would be damned if he let his friend, his Sam, be goaded into something by those who fancied themselves grand masterminds, the proactive instigators of a few ‘happily ever afters’.   They were people in the real world; this wasn’t some damn fantasy where everything balanced out all nice and even, reality didn’t work that way.

Dave was inarticulately furious that someone had caused Sam to think that.

He expected some argument, because when Sam got something into his head, that was pretty much it. He had an unfathomably strong loyalty to his beliefs that left them stubbornly glued to his side. He wasn’t going to back down now, but Dave thought, perhaps, that if they were reverting back to their previous interaction style, Sam would be willing to listen. He usually did.

When Dave managed the strength to risk it, the expression he saw did not embody that of a mild protest. It didn’t look eager, it didn’t look willing, it didn’t look contemplating. It was void of any and all Dave knew.

Sam looked pissed.

Ignited with fury and betrayal, far stronger than Dave’s initial emotional assault in the choir room, Sam was quivering with a rage he could barely contain, fists shaking against his sides as he glared at Dave through narrowed slits, utterly disbelieving in entirety of what stood before him.

“You know…” the blond began with a strained garble, exhaling heavily through his nose as tears streamed down his face. “I liked it better before, when I thought you were just acting like an ass. Unlike now, where it turns out you are actually an ass.”

“That’s not fair Sam,” Dave said, burying the hurt in an effort to remain in control. “You know what I’m saying is-”

Go to hell!” The shout is too loud and too painful and too much, but Sam didn’t back down, unaffected by his emotional compromise. “Before, you were just pretending to be a tool, pretending to do damage control for my ‘dumb’ self so that I would go away, but it turns out you actually think I’m too stupid to realize-”

“It’s not that,” Dave pleaded, taking a timid step forward, hands still raised.

“The hell it isn’t!” Sam snapped, shoving his arms away. “You think I’d honestly- you think I wouldn’t take the time to actually consider this? You think I haven’t been freaking out over whether you’d take me seriously or worrying that there would never be a way to tell you just how wrong I was, how sorry I was I couldn’t figure this out sooner? And then to like, properly woo you – because you deserve that much – to risk everything we had or, I guess, didn’t have, on something I was pretty damn sure wasn’t going to happen?”

“Of course not-”

“Stop saying that shit!” Sam was across the room one instant, then in Dave’s face the next, a spontaneous decision to close the distance with a furious lunge, guitar slipping behind his back. “Stop pretending you trust me or give a damn about what think when at the end of the day, the only things I feel that you are going to believe are the things you decided I feel! That’s not a partnership, that’s not equality- that’s you, you being the controlling asshole for ‘Dumbass Sam’-”

“Don’t say that.” Instead of trying to regain a handle on the situation Dave opted for that, knowing it had to be said, Sam had to know.

“Then don’t treat me like that!” Sam yelled, shoving a rough finger into his chest. “Look, if you don’t like me, that’s fine. It’s not great, for me, but it’s fine, but don’t think you have the right to tell me what I feel, because you don’t.”

“Sam…” Dave’s throat was rough and uncooperative, heat beginning to build behind his eyes. “You don’t…you don’t like me.”

It was an argument lost before it had ever begun, but Dave knew he had to say it. Knew it needed to be said even if no one else ever would ever say it.

He had accepted Sam’s lack of attraction to him. He had accepted surrendering his friendship for the sake of his protection. He had accepted losing Azimio, and his mom, and probably his dad, and all of his old friends and everything he knew just so he could have this standing where he could be near this person– these individuals – for nothing more than his own selfishness to belong. That perhaps in some way, proximity would allow him some of their greatness.

He didn’t know why Sam was ruining that all now.

So much of him was screaming that he was a moron, that this was what he wanted, and even if it wasn’t, not hurting Sam was sort of at the top of his list of priorities and this was nothing but unneeded pain and suffering, and Dave could stop that right now. He could stop it with an apology, he could stop it with sincerity, he could lay out all his fears, he could explain for just how long and how badly he had wanted Sam in any capacity, friend of boyfriend or whatever, he could do those things and they would laugh and it would be good, it would be fine.

Up until the point where whatever Pep talk Sam had been given eventually wore off, and it was no longer fine. When the intimacy lost it shine and became more weird than comforting, than familiar, when couple-stuff with Dave became an awkward burden Sam wouldn’t know how to articulate out of, until one day it would be over with a bashful grin and a “Maybe I’ll remember next time?” smile that made Dave go all weak in the knees and then Sam would be walking away like it was a fresh life experience and Dave would have nothing.

Sam was a naturally overdramatic person. It was one of things that made the arts such a good fit for him. But it also tended to lead to conversations like these when the stakes seemed monumentally high and it was ridiculous to argue them in the wake of such unrestrained passion.

But Dave couldn’t be just a…phase. Sam didn’t like him, no matter what he thought, Sam didn’t like him. Sam hadn’t realized in the weeks Dave had hung out with him that there could have been more, had called the concept of them dating stupid, had asked Dave, to his face, if he had the audacity to actually like him. The audacity to think he could somehow, with all his faults, be liked in return.

Three weeks was a hell of a long time not to talk to someone. Who knew what kind of scenarios one could build in their mind to compensate for the loneliness. After all, Dave had made himself a very large fixture in Sam’s life.

“You’re right.”

It was quiet, thick and heavy with grief, but when Dave looked up, Sam’s face held nothing but anger, at himself and Dave, quivering as the tears continued their relentless path.

“As always,” Sam started again, with a mocking curl of his lips. “You are right Dave.”

He turned on his heel, walking towards the front of the costume closet, deciding it was over. It was over.

He paused when he reached the threshold, and threw one last, bitter look over his shoulder, caustically sharp and wounding.

“I don’t like you at all.”

If he left or not, Dave didn’t know. There was a kind of satisfaction that derived from what was, undoubtedly, poetic justice of some kind, but ultimately the numbness won out and the tears- they were tears, he realized – started streaming down his cheeks, composure destroyed with six simple words.

Good. Good, now that foolishness could finally be done with.

It would never have been a good story. Welcoming the pain now was really just practical, at this point. Cutting to the end of the tale before it could begin.

Efficiency was never a bad thing. Dave would repeat that until he believed it, until it was his only mantra to live by, until it drowned out the emotions, the words, and the hopes.

It would have been a bad romance.

Chapter Text

Drastic times called for drastic measure and dear god was Sam tired of having his emotions jerked out of his chest and stomped on, because that shit was not only A) un-cool, but B) better suited for people that had actually earned Fate’s retribution via a swift kick in the ass.

His head was all over the freakin’ map in the aftermath of his and Dave’s (newest) fight, and it was with the stubborn dignity of needing a safe place to hide that Sam managed to walk through the halls without completely falling apart – again – guitar a solid but mocking presence against his back.

He had washed off his face as best he could before hitting the crowded hallways, forcing one foot in front of the other in a steady march, getting lost in the rhythm of it and pushing away the betrayal, the shame, the anger. He had known it was a long shot, but he hadn’t thought-

There was a lot of shit that went wrong in the meeting, and Sam was pretty sure his opinion wasn’t biased about that, anyone would have agreed. Dave being an ass on purpose (which hurt), Dave’s expression of surprise and confusion (which stung), Dave’s immediate move to trivialize the things Sam had been working so hard to form, to confirm as concrete and real, and dismissing them with an understanding shake of the head (which wounded in a way that diminished their past squabbles to nothing, hurt and stung and killed, or maybe he was just being overdramatic).

And yet, every part of Sam’s body was urging him to turn around and sprint back to the costume closet, to fall on his knees and apologize and just keep trying, keep talking until Dave believed him.

He wouldn’t, because if there was one thing Sam had learned in glee club, it was that self respect was a feature you had to maintain always. No one else was there to do it for you, and the rest of the school would only be too happy to see that crumble and fail. You had to draw a line for yourself, and Sam had done that a long time ago. Like hell would he compromise that for the sake of feelings, he deserved better than that. More than that.

But mostly, Sam deserved - at this point - for Dave to take him seriously. That wasn’t something he should have had to work for.

The fact that he did, apparently…

Sam didn’t want to think about it.

Sam wasn’t sure what his next move was. Dave had called his hand and now Sam was left with a bunch of duds, no ideas and no energy and no freakin’ brains to determine a new plan. Was it just over, then? It wasn’t what he wanted. Despite Dave’s remarkable dickishness, he still wanted to have something with Dave. Still thought he could. As angry as he was now - and it was staggering, almost, how mad he was at Dave - the want for him to be present and happy and just, with him was overwhelming. Sam wanted to extend an opportunity for redemption.

The question was, how?

If he talked to Dave again, he would just insist Sam had been tricked into it, that his feelings weren’t real. He had never said, not once – and Sam remembered this because it was his lifeline, it was the only highlight to their encounter and it kept him from fumbling and running back and pleading – Dave never said he had no interest in Sam.

Which meant - and it was entirely possible that this was just like, dumb person logic - but that meant that he just might kind of like Sam too.

Sam couldn’t completely surrender to the idea, because there had been other issues Dave was focusing on at the moment so he could have just forgotten to say no, but Sam liked to think that the pinched look of pain Dave had worn was a result was from seeing something he wanted but being too…stupid to take it. Maybe. Or maybe Sam was just reading into it, or maybe he was right and the blond had just missed Dave so much that he had built this up grander than it was, and it was just longing and loneliness and not-

But it wasn’t. Sam knew what he wanted. It terrified him, but he knew what he wanted.

He just had to figure out how to get it.

Sam ambled down the hallway, his stride becoming less forced as he considered, shaking off the conflicting feelings that wouldn’t help him. He needed Dave to see that he was serious, but how? He had already tried singing to him, and Dave hadn’t even let him start to play the build up. Anything short of hog-tying the guy probably wouldn’t get Sam to be heard out, and the entire physically-restraining-Dave business would sort of send the wrong vibes for what he was trying to do.

The blond started making his way towards the parking lot, deciding he would wait by Finn’s truck until the quarterback showed up to take them home. The fresh air would do him some good, and it wasn’t like he could totally withstand having company right now.

As he neared the school’s exit, Sam caught sight of some movement down an adjacent hallway. There was a gaggle of Cheerios hanging up some posters in that scarily efficient manner they tended to do things, waving off all others that attempted to interrupt their work. It was a campaign poster, probably. Prom was coming up soon, and Quinn most likely had her newly-reclaimed underlings urging the need for her Queen nomination.

Sam spared the poster a brief glance as the cheerleaders moved away, wondering who Quinn had suckered into being her King running-mate, and almost ran into an open locker door.

He blinked, giving the confused owner of the locker an apologetic glance, then took off towards the poster, wondering if he had been seeing it wrong.

The picture continued to remain unchanged, even as he got closer.

It was Dave.

The picture was of Quinn and Dave, her in finely-tailored Cheerio red and white and Dave in his letterman jacket, arm around the small blonde’s shoulder in a show of easy familiarity. It would have been friendly, was friendly, but Quinn was leaning into his side, her arm wrapped around his lower back, a satisfied smirk gracing her pretty features.

For a second, Sam wanted to rip it down. Considered even doing it anyway when the brief flash of rage had passed.

He shook it off, and focused on Dave’s picture.

It was an easy smile, one Sam had seen a hundred times, cheerful and carefree and kind, likeable, and oh-so at place on Dave’s face and yet oh-so wrong because why was he running for prom king with Quinn? What, did she sucker him into it because he had won last year? Figured he would be an easy mark since he already had one victory under his belt? That seemed like something Quinn would do (because like he had said, Quinn could be a little crazy when she wanted something) but why was Dave going along with it?

That meant, that had to mean, that Dave was taking Quinn to prom. He was taking Quinn to prom, after he had given that little spiel to Strando about being symbolically gay (on top of being actually gay) and Sam was a little angry and a little confused and a little bit- oh hey, there it was, super pissed.

Because this was the shit Dave did, he protected himself – but he protected Sam too – he played the game better than anyone else – but look at what he’s done for the glee club -

He was all kinds of an asshole – and he still felt really bad about that.

Seriously? Seriously? His brain couldn’t even be angry at Dave right, no, even it was taking his stupid side instead of just letting Sam be mad, as he had rightfully earned to. Sam should be mad, this prom thing was dumb, it was dumb and-

And then, Sam had an idea.

Because Dave was smart, and he protected himself and other people in smart ways. Sam didn’t know how to do that, he could never figure out the proper wording to make something like that happen, Sam only had the direct-approach working in his favor. That was all he knew how to do.

So that was exactly what he would do.

It might not have worked out all that great this time, but Sam had confidence that it could only go uphill from here, so long as he took baby steps.

Itty-bitty, baby steps.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam was really starting to sympathize with Kurt’s plight of last year, because honestly, aside from the glee club it seemed like there were no gay guys at McKinley. Sam had wracked his brain, considering his options with the same frustrated trepidation as he had the last few times, then considered throwing his hands in the air because damn it, this should not be this hard. He didn’t care if it was Ohio, why were all the gay guys he knew either taken or Dave, who would be absolutely no help?

Yeah, there was that Chandler dude that had been text-stalking Kurt last week, but aside from being a total stranger, Sam didn’t want to rub salt on that particular wound for Blaine, because unlike the rest of the glee club, Sam didn’t spend his time being a self-involved douchebag.

Okay, so that wasn’t a exactly fair, but Sam was a little annoyed and a little raw and a whole heapin’ spoonful of desperate, so in a fit of what he could only describe as deluded hopelessness, Sam nicked Kurt’s phone and fired off a few rapid texts to the only other gay guy he kind-of, sort-of knew, and hoped to high hell that his pitiful attempts at posing as Kurt would be enough to flush the guy out of hiding.

He set a secluded time and place. He got a ride from Joe, who was volunteering at a soup kitchen nearby (Joe had this super power where he knew every charity event that was going on at any given time, because he liked to make the rest of them feel like selfish no-nothings (Sam was almost sure of it)). Joe had bought his excuse of ‘just needing some me-time’ with a sympathetic nod and a squeeze to the shoulder, emoting comfort without a second thought.

Sam was in the coffee shop, and it wasn’t like it was a place that was out of the dude’s comfort zone, he had seen him there before, he just needed to keep his eyes peeled on the door and intercept him before he realized there was no Kurt, or Blaine, and hightailed it out of there.

The plan probably would have been more effective if Sam hadn’t gotten distracted by some concerned texts from Kurt at the last minute, but it turned out that didn’t matter all that much because, surprise of all surprises, his prey came to him.

And looked really freakin’ smug about it.

“Please,” the teen said, eyebrow quirked in an expression of amused all-knowing. “Please tell me it was you pretending to be Kurt. I will overlook your pathetic attempts at deceit for entertainment’s sake alone. You are too cute.”

“Shut up Sebastian,” Sam grumbled, as though this were a conversation they had a million times, and not, in fact, the first time they had ever met one-on-one. “I needed to get your attention.”

The smirk grew, and Sam fought against the desire to shift under the uncomfortable gaze. “I hate to fall into the cliché but damn, I’m starting to see the appeal of liking them dumb and pretty.”

Sam felt his face flushing, and he glared at his coffee cup petulantly, trying to ignore the other teen’s laugh. “I’m not-”

“Bright? I noticed. But let’s not argue the unquestionable; I’m only willing to waste so much of my time on you, so you have until…” Sebastian’s eyes lowered, making an exaggerated show of checking Sam out, gaze on his chest, his arms, before eventually stopping on his lips with a devilish smirk. “Well,” he sighed, a gusty, relaxed exhale. “Until I’m done enjoying the view.”

The scowl was an automatic response, followed by a clenched fist around his paper cup as Sebastian’s predatory gaze grew more satisfied. “Listen, asshole-”

“Tick, tock,” the other teen murmured, eyes not leaving Sam’s lips for so much as a second. “You’re on a timer babe.” He let out a slow whistle, leaning forward, and Sam quelled the urge to back away as the brunette invaded his personal bubble. “That mouth must see a lot of action-”

“I need your help,” Sam interrupted, grip tightening against the edge of the table. Which was, thankfully, still in between them.

“You wanna join the Warblers?” Sebastian asked, gaze flicking to Sam’s eyes with a look of interest before focusing on the blond’s…other features again. “I’m sure we could arrange something. If you come to my car we could have a private interview, sans shirts of course, that’s standard procedure-”

“Dude, I thought you were all into Blaine,” Sam hissed, heat rushing to his face as he felt another foot slide alongside his underneath the table. “Isn’t all your creeper-stuff saved for him?”

Not that Sam exactly wished this kind of stuff on his friend, but, you know, creeper.

The grin that instigated was nothing short of devilish. “I’m willing to make an exception,” the teen murmured. “And your reactions are making it so very tempting.” The foot slid forward, angling it so that there was solid contact from ankle to knee, all along the inner side of his leg. When Sam blushed brighter, the stupid smile grew.

This was not going exactly how Sam thought it would.

“I need your help.” The leg was shifting now, rubbing a painfully slow path back and forth, and Sam cursed his newfound whatever this was bitterly.

“So you’ve said.”

“Yeah, so I-” Sam cut off, and damn it, he was going to lose feeling to his face at this rate, what the hell? “Would you knock that off?”

Sebastian leered, because he was a dick like that. “I dunno, you seem pretty damn receptive.”

Shut up- shut up- shut up-

Ineedyoutogotopromwithme.”

The leg stopped - Jesus yes - but the blood rushing to Sam’s face didn’t, not under the speculative gaze of Sebastian, who was still trying to figure out what he had said.

“…Excuse me?”

“I uh…I need you- I mean, will you, will you, go to um…prom with me?”

Looking back on this in hindsight, Sebastian’s expression would probably be one that was worth treasuring forever, a picture of complete stupefaction that could be savored and dutifully counted on to raise Sam’s spirits in even the hardest of times.

As it was though, Sam sort of wanted to dig a hole to curl up and die in at that exact moment, because the confusion changed to malicious satisfaction, then cruelty, which instigated a string of laughter that did not, in Sam’s opinion, warrant being exactly as loud or as long as Sebastian made it.

Sam ignored the curious looks from other tables by sheer force of will, glaring down at his coffee cup because there was nothing to see here, thanks. No, he did not know the crazy person across the table from him. Sebastian had given up his battle against gravity and collapsed onto the table, smacking his palm against the cheap laminate in an over-exaggerated, Rachel Berry-approved, expression of disbelieved humor.  

Holy hell, this guy was awful. Sam had no idea what he had been thinking giving him a call, he might as well have texted Strando, at least that guy would-

What the fuck, hand-

On his knee, and Sam flailed back with a spastic shudder, grateful that he hadn’t been holding his coffee at that time. When he managed to pull himself together, Sebastian graced him with a cheerful wave of his fingers, one hand propped beneath his chin lazily as he stared at the blond, eyes at half mast.

“Alright Slim,” he drawled, smirking at Sam’s surprise. “I’m willing to hear you out. Talk to me, what do I get out of this?”

Okay, Sam had been preparing for this part the entire ride over here. He could do this.

That thought would probably be more uplifting if he actually believed it.

But what the hell, Sam tried anyway. “The satisfaction of-”

“Satisfaction don’t pay the bills,” Sebastian interrupted with a quick shake of his head, smirking at the resulting startle. “I’m going to need a little more than that, sweet cheeks.”

“But-”

More,” the brunette repeated. He considered Sam for a second, then the table between them, and frowned. The next moment he was shuffling his chair until it was beside Sam’s, their legs flush from mid-thigh down and no, Sam was not blushing, that would be stupid. Sebastian leaned over, whispering, “I’m thinking you won’t mind what I offer.”

“Spoken for, kind of- please don’t-” the words came in an unorganized mob, Sam conflicted as to whether to push the other teen away or continue while he could, consciously ignoring the arm draping across the back of his chair.

Sebastian narrowed his eyes at the oncoming blather, eventually pulling back with a knowing nod. “Jealousy card, I get it. You’ve got your eye on the prize and you need a little persuasion.”

“Something like that,” Sam muttered. Explaining the ‘money where you mouth was’ concept to Sebastian probably would be a lost cause, and either way, this would get Sam’s point across well enough, and it was something Sebastian actually understood. “Are you interested?”

Sam knew it was a poor choice of words the moment they left his lips, but there was little he could do about that except hold still as Sebastian leaned to rest his chin on the blond’s shoulder. “Oh darling,” he gushed, voice husky. “I am very interested.” He shifted, so very slightly, and Sam was conscious of the lips hovering just millimeters from his neck, the puffs of warm air doing little to enhance his calm. “Of course, my services don’t come cheap.”

“What do you want?” His hands curled into tight fists in his lap, trying – and failing – to ignore the way Sebastian was all-but nuzzling his neck.

The other teen laughed, low and amused, and Sam knew he shouldn’t leave that much freedom, should have offered something to spare himself, but he couldn’t think like this and he-

He just really wanted Dave to know he was in this for the long haul, okay?

“Two demands,” Sebastian murmured into his ear, delighting in Sam’s discomfort. “First of all, as your prom date I require all the privileges such a position would allow me.”

“What?” Sam asked, a second before he could stop himself, realizing too late that the other teen just wanted to hear him be confused.

He had turned, and Sebastian was right in his face, gleeful and pleased. “You know,” he said with a wink, slathering on the charm. “The physical privileges.”

“I’m not sleeping with you,” Sam hissed once it dawned on him, too fast and damn, damn, he was going to die of embarrassment. That was actually going to be a thing.

Undeterred, Sebastian shrugged. “I’ll take making out and some slight frontage.”

“I don’t-”

“I’ll show you baby,” he purred, and there was a flash of something, there in his eyes, something controlled, something mean. It took a second for Sam to understand to realize (to his shame) that this, this interest, was just a front, a tool. Sebastian didn’t actually like him, he liked control, he liked being an asshole-

And part of Sam was stupidly disappointed by this – because there was another one – and part of him was kind of mad at the fact that he was getting a little turned on by this business anyway, the closeness and the warm air on his neck and the hand on his thigh-

When did he become such a freakin’ lightweight?

“Whatever.” Sam just wanted them to move on, for them to get past the part where Sebastian needed to message his legs because that was getting a little too far north, in Sam’s opinion. “And your second demand?”

Sebastian paused, considering. The hand behind Sam’s back had moved until it was resting on the other side of his neck, beating a sporadic rhythm right on the collar of his t-shirt, where clothing met skin. He was there, so close to Sam, able to read everything, the blond at his mercy, and he knew it, he knew it, and Sam wondered how far south this could possibly go.

“You seem awfully faggy for a ‘straight’ guy Evans,” a voice (possibly on cue) cut in, disgust and judgment heavy in its tone. “What, can’t even stick it out with Puckerman? You gotta spread your gay-shit everywhere?”

Rock. Hard place. Sam was really happy to be here.

Though this time Strando’s posse only consisted of one other guy in what was, undoubtedly, neutral territory, the other jock didn’t look a fraction less like he owned the joint, sneer plastered on his face in a constant fixture of displeasure as he took in the sight of Sebastian and Sam.

Sebastian, who hadn’t so much as moved from his previous position of ‘all over Sam’. He turned his head slightly in the other teen’s direction, allowing him that much effort, and raised one well-groomed eyebrow.

“What can I say,” he drawled. “I’m skilled in the art of persuasion.”

Strando countered that with an indignant snort, sharing an exasperated look with his friend. Mark. It was Mark, that asshat. “You’re skilled at something alright,” he grumbled. At that they shared a laugh, despite the fact that it made absolutely no sense, and Sam felt Sebastian tense beside him. You wouldn’t have known it from the outside, his expression perpetually smug, but right there, at that proximity, Sam felt it.

There was a chance Sam didn’t breathe when Sebastian made an exaggerated look over of the other two teens, continuing until their laughter died with a furious clench of their fists. Strando was about to say something, Sam could see it, his jaw working behind closed lips, fingers twitching, and Mark didn’t look much better, but (thankfully) Sebastian stopped. He considered, making sure they knew this was what he was doing, making sure the simpletons where aware of his current action, then shuddered, lips twisting in disgust as he looked away, back to Sam.

Aw, hell. Sam was going to get stripped down again.

Or Strando was going to do something equally nonsensical and psychotic. It depended.

“Go away jackoffs,” Sebastian ordered, voice sounding unfairly sophisticated despite the choice of words. “The big boys have important things to talk about.”

You-” Strando sputtered, his face almost as red as Sam’s must have been.

“Are you still here?” Sebastian head turned with an exaggerated swivel, eyebrows furrowed as though it were the most confusing thing ever that they were sticking around. He rolled his eyes. “Beat it.”

Strando floundered, stubbornly keeping to his spot because he had to win this, even though he was in no place to actually argue, and Mark was starting to look like he knew this fact.

“You’re just- you’re just mad,” the jock managed after a few false starts. “Since we’re not-”

“Retard,” Sebastian’s voice was like silk, unyielding, unforgiving silk. “I have taste.” He titled his head until it brushed against the side of Sam’s hair, smiling roguishly. “And really, it’s juvenile for you to spread the hate just because you’re too cowardly to find your way out of the closet.”

“What?” Strando – and possibly Sam – exploded, successfully gathering the attention of the last few individuals in the immediate vicinity who hadn’t already been blatantly eavesdropping. Sam was pretty sure some of them had their phones out.

He realized, with a detached kind of dread, that he was probably going to see this on YouTube later, which meant New Directions would see this on YouTube later and-

Hey, maybe he wouldn’t have to take Sebastian to prom after all.

Said teen was glaring down the two jocks – Strando still spitting fire, Mark uncertain and occasionally throwing longing glances at the door – through half-lidded eyes, bored annoyance.

“Go away,” he said, making a vague shooing motion. With that, he turned back towards Sam, satisfied once more.

The hand on his neck moved upwards, tracing a random pattern along the bottom of his jaw. It was at that point Sam realized maybe he should, like, be a part of this train wreck instead of just watching it happen (unfortunately), so he geared up whatever wits he had left and hissed, “If you get me beaten up, the deal’s off.”

Because honestly, no one needed that. Sam was having enough of a crisis here, he did not need help.

Sebastian considered this, obviously considered this for a moment, shooting the ceiling an annoyed look before he turned his eyes, very reluctantly, back towards the would-be bully and company.

“Dumbasses,” he snapped, pulling Strando out of whatever homophobic-induced shock Mark had been attempting to snap him out of. “Repeat after me. Father,” he pointed to himself. “State Attorney. Say it with me now. Father-”

“State Attorney,” Strando mumbled, blinking dumbly. Mark, gathering about whatever sense of self-preservation he had left, took that as his cue and grabbed the other teen by the shoulder, dragging him bodily along before the bully could reboot himself.

Sam watched them go, anxious and, honestly, a little awed. “That was…”

“Amazing?”

“Unnecessary.”

Sebastian laughed, burying his face in Sam’s shoulder, putting on a big show for the few individuals that still stubbornly had their cameras out. “You are so, very pretty,” he repeated, not even bothering to mention mental capacity anymore. “Be grateful for that. And if you thought that was something, you should hear my second condition.”

Oh. Oh shit, he still had one more of those.

Sam felt his stomach drop, just, everything fade away, the world a void save for the mocking voice beside him, whispering sweet nothings into his ear.

“Yeah, that’s the correct response.”

-:-:-:-:-:-

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Dave steeled himself, sucking in a deep, calming breath, and turned to face his confronter. “Hello Kurt.”

“Do not ‘Hello Kurt’ me you charlatan, I will not be deterred by a reasonable voice and a seemingly stoic demeanor.”

“Kurt-”

“Dave,” the other teen countered, eyebrows raised in that knowing look Dave hated, had hated since he had stupidly made moves on the guy last year. “We are friends here,” he continued, softer, more controlled. “And I need you to talk to me because I do not understand what is going on.”

There was a headache growing, a quiet pulse behind his eyes that kept with him after the tears had dried up. Dave swallowed, pulling himself together by a fine thread. “I’m going to need you to be more specific,” he said at length. “I know your were purposefully vague to allow me the opportunity to fill in the blanks, but honestly Kurt-” I’m very tired. “-I’m going to need a little more guidance than that.”

It was quiet and steady, no excessive…anything- just, patient Dave. One normal, rational teen having a normal, rational conversation on a normal, rational day. There was nothing to see here.

He felt lousy.

Fine,” Kurt huffed. Dave didn’t need to look to know the shorter teen was wearing a pout, annoyed that Dave wouldn’t humor him. “First, let’s start with the posters.”

“They’re nice posters.”

Quinn had done a great job on them, and Blaine had been the one playing photographer, coaxing out the right positions, the proper wardrobe. Not too much make up, relaxed smiles, buddy-buddy all-around. Like they were approachable to anyone, but desirable enough to be aspired to. A fine balance.

Dave hadn’t thought much about the posters, honestly. It was just another necessary precaution among many.

“I wasn’t going to argue their quality.” Kurt matched his stride easily, falling in with a confident gait, head back, posture perfect. “I was more concerned about their purpose.”

“Not to insult your intelligence, but their purpose seems pretty self-explanatory.”

Kurt didn’t falter in the wake of his response. “Let me rephrase that,” Kurt began, stepping in front of Dave in a grand lunge, forcing the bigger teen to look at him. “Dave, why are you taking Quinn to prom?”

With more reluctance than he had practiced, Dave shrugged. “She said we had a higher chance of winning if we campaigned together.”

“All well and true,” Kurt allowed with a nod. His gaze, however, was locked on Dave, studying, taking in his tired expression with a slight tilt of his head. “Though still a little befuddling.”

Dave shrugged again. “It’s not that complicated.”

“In the interest of moving forward with this, I’ll agree with you on that point.” Kurt’s voice didn’t change, still as professionally charming as it had been when they started, but his eyes seemed to soften. That was something that was hard to cover up, the eyes. “Dave,” Kurt whispered, shooting quick glances down both ends of the hallway, making sure they were alone. “Why didn’t you ask Sam to prom?”

No matter how much he had prepared himself for it, Dave couldn’t stop the flinch. He knew the question had been coming, there were too many people that knew, and too many people who were ‘helpful’, too many that wouldn’t leave him alone to his song and dance forever.

“Kurt-”

“No Dave,” Kurt hissed. “Not this time. I am not backing down.”

He ignored Dave’s beseeching eyes (what little he could manage, feeling too worn out to put up much of a fight) and grabbed onto his wrist with tight fingers, all but dragging the football player into the choir room. Of course it was the choir room; it was always the choir room. He closed the door behind them with brutal efficiency, shutting the blinds with a flick of his wrist before turning, arms folded across his chest like an immovable sentry.

There were two doors, but the other one seemed to already be locked, as though someone had prepared for this.

Dave should start checking the closets, or under the risers or something. There were probably a few other ‘concerned’ glee members tucked away, waiting for him to spill his heart out.

Dave sighed, rubbing a heavy hand across his eyes, trying to ignore the ache that lingered. “Kurt please, just-”

“I have left you alone for three weeks.” Kurt’s voice was steel when he interrupted, tough love incarnate, almost sounding strained. “I have given you space, we have all given you space to work your business out and you two respond by being the two biggest morons in the entire school!”

“So sorry we fail to pass muster,” Dave mumbled, half-heartedly trying for petulance.

“Don’t make this about me,” Kurt hissed, looking wounded and annoyed. “Look, Dave he- Sam told us what he said.”

“That’s great Kurt,” Dave murmured, beginning to make a tired loop around the classroom, looking for potential hiding places. “I’m glad for you.”

“Provocation will not work on me David Karofsky.” Kurt was on his heels in an instant, refusing to allow Dave the opportunity to gain distance. “On movie night,” Kurt clarified. “Sam told us what he said. What he asked you.”

Where it not for the slight gentleness to that final statement, Dave probably wouldn’t have processed it. He wasn’t really in a state for doing that, at this moment, but Kurt had backed down. He had lost that hard edge of accusing; of pointedly trying to keep Dave involved, indicating a delicacy he assumed was necessary, though why-

It came back to him slowly, with Sam’s latest…with their latest fight, Dave had more than enough to occupy his woes, but he remembered that statement with such startling clarity it hurt, ripped inside his chest and burned, and Dave had to remind himself to keep breathing, because how had Kurt found out about that? Sam had told him- oh, that was right, Kurt was the one must have talked Sam into saying what he- and even if he hadn’t, Dave was sure he didn’t remain neutral, that wasn’t what Kurt did.

“You,” Dave breathed, a tiny exhale as he felt the melancholy fade away from him, surrendering to the tendrils of growing rage. “What have you and Sam been up to? What did you-”

“A hell of a lot less than I should have,” Kurt scoffed. It did nothing to calm Dave’s nerves, already strangled and stretched thin, and he found himself turning on the other teen with a sudden lurch, reaching forward to grab at his shoulder.

“Kurt,” he growled, fist curling against the heinously expensive shirt. “What did you do?”

He waited, glaring down the shorter teen, seething. He was tired of this crap, why couldn’t Kurt just let things be? He had no right-

He took another deep breath, other hand moving to Kurt’s shoulder, he didn’t know why, and looked down at the other teen, waiting-

The picture before him was one of utter uncertainty, and there was a distinct something to it, a wavering, bright-eyed-

Fear.

The realization hit like a bucket of water, killing his anger with a startled hiss before he was wrenching himself away, across the room and out of reach. It had been like before, when he was the bully, and Kurt was just another thing to him, not a person, never a person-

There was a hand on his elbow and Dave tried to shake it off, tried to clear his vision so he could get the hell out of there, but it persisted, grip strong until Dave was turning to look at him.

“Dave,” Kurt said, eyes big and wet, pleading. “Dave, I promise, after that initial blow up I left the two of you alone. There was no intervening, on either of your behalves, but I need you, Dave-” he reached forward, snagging Dave’s other arm. “I need you to talk to me. Let me help you.”

‘I know what he said’, and wasn’t that humiliating? Who else knew, Dave wondered, who else had allowed him ‘space’ to lick his wounds, who would come after Kurt to try and coddle him back towards Sam?

Why couldn’t they allow him the dignity of quietly dying inside in peace?

Dave freed his arms with a swift tug, looking anywhere but Kurt, and making a beeline for the door. He paused with one hand on the knob, the other teen still trying to latch on in a vice-like grip, and stared at its stupid brassiness.

“I didn’t ask Sam because he wouldn’t say yes.”

He wasn’t sure why he said it, even though he had thought it, so many times. Even before it had gotten serious, before Sam had gotten drunk and before Dave had joined glee club, he had pictured how it would go down perfectly, in his head. Hell, maybe he would have taken Brittany up on that white horse into the sunset idea. Sam would’ve liked that.

Now, if Dave went and asked him, Sam would probably say yes.

It wouldn’t be so bad, right? Sam would probably be really happy on prom night, and maybe for a few weeks after. They could hold out until graduation, at least.

But Dave couldn’t stand the idea of it ending. Knowing, with the certainty that came from playing it to himself straight, that what he truly desired would be impossible.

He couldn’t ask Sam to prom. He couldn’t get that yes now, only to have it be a no later.

“You don’t know that Dave,” Kurt pleaded. His grip was surprisingly strong for a guy his size. That was what happened right, when you wanted something badly enough? You fought for it.

“You don’t,” Dave countered. “I do.”

Unable to listen anymore, he shook Kurt off with a gentle push and moved away, exiting the room with a stride that was a little too speedy to be casual.

It didn’t matter though; no one gave him a second glance.

He made his way out of the building, ignoring the perfectly-normal posters plastered across every wall, and somehow managed to get out the door.

Retreating like the loser he was.

Chapter Text

After joining the glee club, Sam had become very familiar with the concept of awkward situations. He had experienced them by the handfuls, even, which was one of the less-pleasant side effects (along with the slushie-facials and general hazing) of signing up but, whatever, you took the bad with the good. If he thought hard enough, he could usually get past the uncomfortable-ness with the idea that this would be a hilarious story one day, and leave it at that. There was no point in stressing things you literally had no control over, right? Right. Awesome.

The fact that he actually had total control when it came to creating this particular awkward situation was something Sam took great pains to ignore, along with the very doubtful, very concerned looks Mr. Schuester kept staring him down with, undeterred by, well, their present company.

Like really, Sam knew what he was doing. Kind of.

“Let me get this straight,” Mr. Schuester began slowly, putting forth a valiant effort to not seem totally confused. “You are vouching for…Sebastian to join the New Directions?”

Sebastian, who was, in fact, sitting right next to Sam in one of the two rickety chairs across from Mr. Schue’s desk, and seemed to be the only one entirely comfortable with this ordeal.

“It’s a very generous offer of my talents,” the brunette drawled smugly, arms folded across his chest. Early on he had tried resting his heals on top of Mr. Schue’s desk, but the teacher wouldn’t have any of it. It gave Sam some comfort to know somebody in this situation had a semblance of control. You know, someone who wasn’t Sebastian.

Mr. Schue narrowed his eyes at the teen’s overt cockiness. “I’m not questioning your ability. My greater concern is your reliability.”

“You don’t think I can pick up your dances?” Sebastian looked interested in this, as though maybe they had been holding out on him dance-wise. He was probably inferring that from what he’d seen, that wouldn’t be an issue. “Because I’m a faster learner.”

“Again, I’m not concerned about your skills,” Mr. Schuester repeated, shoulders rising in an uncomfortable hunch.

Great, so Sebastian had that kind of effect on adults too. Sam felt less bad now.

Despite the frustration, Mr. Schue carried on like a pro, ignoring Sebastian’s aloofness. “Let’s knock it off with the games here. I want to know what your motives are.”

Sebastian disregarded the teacher’s attempts at seriousness with a quirk of his eyebrows. “To get a shot at winning Nationals. Isn’t that why we’re all here?”

For a moment, Mr. Schue stared him down, dissecting him and waiting. Eventually, Sam realized he was giving Sebastian the opportunity to explain himself without playing around.

When he figured out that wasn’t going to happen, he turned his attention on Sam, who really wished he hadn’t. “Is he blackmailing you?”

“Have people done that here?” Sebastian asked this in a combination of fascination and confusion, as though he genuinely wanted to know but had no reason why anyone would put so much effort into working with them.

At this point, Sam assumed he was blatantly excluding himself from this confusion, because you know, him signing on was the entire reason they were in this stupid meeting anyway.

Mr. Schuester, who was, at the end of the day, an educator, took the question seriously and explained it. “Students have transferred in to compete with us before, and not always with the best intent.” Lesson done, he turned his eyes back to Sam. “Is there something going on here I need to worry about?”

“I’m not blackmailing him,” Sebastian said blithely, despite the fact that no one in their right mind would ever believe him. Especially if, hey, he actually was blackmailing Sam.

For the sake of getting this meeting over with, Sam said, “He isn’t.”

“It’s more like the other way around,” Sebastian added casually, and Sam didn’t choke, or fidget, or startle or anything, because in a way, he had been expecting for Sebastian to throw him under the bus at some point.

And, he might add proudly, he had actually prepared for this. “It’s mutually beneficial,” he assured Mr. Schuester, knowing the tolerance the choir director had for enemy-foolishness was somewhere around zero. “And he actually has a pretty good motive to be here.”

At least, the one he sold to Sam had seemed pretty solid. Enough to get him to agree to this meeting, and to carry out the deal, so…

Mr. Schue held Sam’s gaze for a moment, like a silent confirmation thing the blond had seen him do with Finn like, a million times. He always figured it was just a them thing that he would never truly understand, or maybe you just had to be there, but at the receiving end of its heavy judgment Sam was about as clueless as he had always been, so he dutifully nodded back, like Finn would do.

When the teacher turned to give Sebastian the floor to speak, Sam did not heave a gigantic sigh of relief because that would be pathetic, it was really close.

Lucky for him, Sebastian’s motive was entirely believable.

-:-:-:-:-:-

*last week*

“No, no way- absolutely not. I don’t care how badly I want a date for prom; you are not joining New Directions.”

For the finer workings of the deal Sebastian had managed to coax Sam out into the parking lot, in the general vicinity of his car. Sam drew the line at entering the vehicle because, you know, potential hostage situation stranger-danger there, but Sebastian had conceded with a dramatically put upon sigh and a winking suggestion for shirts off anyway.

Sam very much kept his shirt on, and there was more sighing. All in all, it was a very unproductive five minutes.

Sebastian made a show of examining his nails, raising a brow at Sam’s frantic pacing as he propped one hip against his overpriced sports car. “Give me one good reason-”

“Sabotage.” Sam jarred to a halt, glaring at him. “Seriously? You would break us from the inside, just ‘cuz you could.” He shook his head. “It’s not worth the risk.”

Sebastian tilted his head, offering a challenge. “It’s worth it if you want to make your boy jealous.”

“I think I can accomplish that with the YouTube videos we will, no doubt, be seeing later.”

Sebastian reeled back, acting wounded, one hand spread across his face to say ‘well, I never’. “And you would be comfortable just, taking a favor from me without repaying in kind?”

“Dude, you’re evil. I don’t feel bad about taking shit from evil people. I am dumb, I can convince myself it doesn’t matter. See,” Sam turned to the left, as though addressing an invisible person. “Hey Sam, that was an awesome thing we got from that evil dude that threw rock salt in Blaine’s eye. You shouldn’t feel bad.” He turned to the right, replying to his first invisible self. “Why, that sounds like a remarkable idea. Tally ho good sir.”

“Is there any particular reason why one version of you is British?” Sebastian asked, back to quirking his stupid eyebrows.

Sam resisted the urge to punch one of them.

Violence was not the answer. No matter how small the actions that instigated it made him feel.

Instead, the blond shrugged. “Gotta tell them apart somehow.”

“Fantastic,” Sebastian drawled. “But you-”

“I don’t.”

Pooky.” His lower lip jutted out, playing at false hurt. “You wound me.”

Sweetums.” Sam planted his hands on his hips, trying to channel his inner-Kurt. “I do not care. See, I can make up nicknames too.”

“You’re really not going to let me be on your team.”

It was a statement, but from Sebastian it was also the closest he had ever come to looking uncertain. Which could be a trick, a useful trick to make Sam feel like he was in control but…

Well, it couldn’t hurt to explain himself.

He sighed, shaking his head, and ran a distracted hand through his hair. “Look, the Warblers might be out at a shot for Nationals, but you? You’re crazy, okay? You proved that. Legit, psychopathic craziness over there,” he gestured in Sebastian’s general area. “I wouldn’t put it past you to try and ruin our chances of winning out of pure spite.”

“An excellent point,” Sebastian conceded. It was good, because Sam didn’t want to explain himself again, but it was also kind of bad because the other teen was getting that thinking look on his face, and that didn’t tend to bode well for…anyone.

Which was why Sam was remarkably surprised when those green eyes snapped back to him, just as sharp and calculating as ever. “What if I gave you leverage? An insurance policy, if you will?”

Sam, who was finally beginning to learn something from his interactions with this…snake, for lack of a better word, kept silent, knowing Sebastian would be more than happy to keep talking.

And talk, he did. “I give you some dirt on me and that way, if things go bad, you use it, okay?”

“What kind of dirt?” Sam, despite his better judgment, asked.

It earned him a smile, slow and cruel that did not meet his eyes. “Oh, I think you’re familiar with this particular recording. The one your lesbo recorded?”

Before Sam could object the name (he couldn’t help the worried looks he shot around the parking lot to see if Santana was going to leap out of nowhere and attack, because she was psychic like that), Sebastian continued, “I give you that, and you let me in. Then, after we win Nationals, we part our separate ways.”

“Why the hell do you want to join New Directions so badly?” Sam asked, curious. He had made it this far, he might as well figure out what was going on. Sure, he knew the answer would probably be ‘to stare at Blaine some more’ or ‘to annoy Kurt’ or just ‘because I’m awful’, but that didn’t mean-

“The answer’s simple,” Sebastian murmured, leaning a casual palm against his chin.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“I want to crush Jesse St. James,” Sebastian announced. The eyes were what sold it, the same fiery passion that bordered on eerie in its focus. Sam knew the look, he had seen it on Quinn and Rachel and Kurt too many times not to recognize the warning signs to duck and cover and run the hell away. There was one true benefit to them though, despite their - to be frank - pant-shittingly freaky horrors they created. The one benefit being that there was no faking this.

Sebastian didn’t have enough of a soul to pull off this much passion just to pull the wool over their eyes. He believed this, wanted it, needed it.

“Jesse St. James is the current director of Vocal Adrenaline,” Sebastian continued, tone professional, perfect. “After their second place finish last year, Carmel is looking for a rebound. They’ve hired Jesse on a trial basis, if he brings home the victory this year; he gets to keep the job. If he loses…”

“They fire him?” Sam asked, doubting because, hey, how was that fair? It was his first year directing.

Sebastian snapped his fingers, throwing him a quick smirk. “Got it in one, Sunshine. He gets fired, Vocal Adrenaline loses who would, very probably, be a director with great potential and the Warblers…” he reconsidered, then added, “and New Directions have one less thing to worry about.” He sat back in his chair with a smile, folding his hands behind the back of his head with a huge grin. “Everybody wins.”

Finally, it looked like they were getting into territory Mr. Schuester understood. The teacher nodded slowly, considering this. “So all of this…is just to crush Jesse?”

Sebastian made no attempt to hide his disdain. “For four years the damn bastard ruled the show choir circuit. I auditioned for Carmel my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, but they wouldn’t take me,” he was ranting, but didn’t particularly care too much.

The hate was strong with this one.

He leaned forward, shoving a pointed finger into Mr. Schue’s desk. “The Warblers might be out of the competition this year, but I’ll be damned if I let that get in the way of destroying that arrogant son of a bitch. The way I see it, if you guys legitimately beat the Warblers, then you’re probably the best shot at beating him.” He paused, suddenly realizing his streak of ‘real talk’, then slumped back into his chair with a lazy smile, mask in place. “Assuming you didn’t bribe the judges, that is.”

“We didn’t,” Mr. Schuester said, looking stern.

“Well then, this shouldn’t be a problem.”

In light of that smarmy comment, Mr. Schuester shot Sam a glare, a heavy glare of many implications, the greatest of which being, ‘Are you sure about this?’.

Sam, who was not, in fact, entirely positive of this path (and even less comfortable due to his own personal gains) swallowed, willing away the guilt and uncertainty, and nodded.

The look changed, and this one Sam was not familiar with, but understood readily enough.

‘He’s your responsibility. If he makes a bad move, you tell me’.

Sam nodded again, trying to force away the feeling of lightheadedness and the overwhelming feelings that he was way out of his league in this one. He wasn’t. This wouldn’t be bad, this was fine. It was fine.

Sebastian watched the exchange with narrowed eyes, then smiled, coming to the correct conclusion before it was ever addressed.

“So,” he said, casually slouching towards Sam until their shoulders brushed, eyes on Mr. Schuester. “Am I in, or what?”

-:-:-:-:-:-

If Sam had thought confronting Mr. Schuester about Sebastian joining the New Directions was awkward, the first glee rehearsal with the antagonistic smart-mouthed asshole took ‘uncomfortable’ to an entire new realm of existence, a tense silence falling over the room after Sam finished giving his explanation, all wide-eyed and eager.

He had to play it that way, because if he didn’t there would be two unforgivable douchebags in the room (three, if you included Dave) and Sam really just wanted to get this out and have people stop looking at him like he’d grown a second head.

Seriously Mercedes, shut your mouth. I get it, it’s unbelievable.

Thankfully, Sam had thought far enough ahead to recruit a certified smart person to his side before the rehearsal had begun by way of Artie, who he had made multiple copies of the blackmail tape for safe keeping. Sebastian had merely done that incredulous-face thing in response, but didn’t protest, probably figuring that Sam didn’t have the backbone to legitimately use it for anything other than their established deal. Sam would have been offended, but since in this case Sebastian was merely implying he was too nice to do something, so Sam would let it slide. He was a cool dude, after all. Someone should appreciate it.

Artie had been surprisingly accepting of Sebastian’s recruitment. It was weird, but seeing as Sam’s way of approaching him had been all but flinging the tape at the bespectacled teen and explaining everything else in a garbled rush, only pausing to point at the tape to prove he wasn’t – you know – crazy or thoughtless or inconsiderate, he guessed it wasn’t all that surprising. Artie was one of the more laid back guys, if you approached him on a good day.

There were bad days. Bad days ended in songs and sullen silence, but they were few and far between.

Teaming up with Artie was probably the only reason the phrase ‘What are you, stupid?’ didn’t get thrown around, but it didn’t stop the pity eyes from Rachel, who kept trying to pour her heart and soul out through her gaze like she understood his desperation but knew undoubtedly that he was being used somehow. Which was touching and kind of rude. There was mutual using of persons going on down here, okay? They were both benefiting.

True, no one else in the room knew what he was getting out of the deal, but that shouldn’t mean they should stare him down like a crazy person. If anything, this should boost his decent-person reputation. There should be arguments about his nobility, or maybe a few questions on how Sebastian managed to ‘corner’ him in the first place, but instead all they could do was gaze shockingly at the arm draped across the back of his chair, and occasionally the spiffily-dressed individual it belonged to, who was taking so much joy in blatantly ignoring them while simultaneously causing such a huge decent into confusion that Sam was surprised he hadn’t burst into song yet. Were the deal not on the table, Sam was sure he would have.

The good news, Sam found, about having Sebastian as a prom date, was that the dude actually made an effort to be nice to him. In the company of others. Outside of that, Sam was just as fair game to his criticisms as anyone else, but hey, when people were around, he was charming. It was an added effort he didn’t really need to extend, because all Sam had asked for was an individual to help prove a point, but it was still pretty cool. Nice that the guy was making it believable, as opposed to the blatant lie that it was. And hey, maybe Dave actually would get jealous. Maybe. Possibly. If he squinted, or something.

He probably wouldn’t squint. Dave was kind of a close-minded dick like that, but Sam could hope.

It could be going worse.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sam had expected Kurt to be the first one to approach him after Sebastian’s introductory glee rehearsal. Or maybe Blaine. Or a combination of Kurt and Blaine with Santana lurking in the background, sharpening the knives she kept hidden in her hair, or something. Or maybe Santana would have been first. It was going to be one of those three, Sam was almost sure of it.

Which was why it wasn’t the greatest blow to his already low self-esteem when Puck, of all people, was the first one to track them down, proving Sam’s guessing abilities were about as strong as his planning abilities.

They were walking out towards Sebastian’s car, outlining their next number for glee (they had done a mashup of ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘Sail’ this time, because there was no way in hell they could agree on one song), when the Puck unceremoniously shoved them into a nearby classroom, kicking the door shut behind them without even pausing his, admittedly impressive, glare down.

“What the hell are you doing Evans? Are you stupid?”

Sebastian, who was standing slightly behind Sam, chuckled lowly. “Or so it has been said.”

Puck, never looking away from Sam, pointed a stern finger at Sebastian. “Shut up snazzy pants, I’m not talking to you.”

Sebastian choked on a laugh. “Snazzy-?”

“Look Sam,” Puck interrupted, tone softening as he addressed the blond. “I’m glad you finally figured out you’re gay-”

“I’m bi,” Sam corrected, because that was something Puck needed to know.

Sebastian was still laughing.

“I’m glad you figured out you’re gay,” Puck repeated, making no show that he had heard Sam. “But this? Seriously? Just ask Dave to prom, you know he’ll say yes.”

“I tried that,” Sam snapped. His hands were curling into fists against his sides, which was unavoidable, what with knowing Sebastian was suddenly very interested now.

“Wait,” Puck did a double take. “You actually-?”

“Did you think plan one was Sebastian?” Sam asked, gesturing towards the teen in question. The brunette took no visible offence to the way both of them shuddered, because come on man, that guy was evil. “I mean, really?”

Puck got a very patient look on his face that Sam knew wouldn’t bode well for him. “You’re not the greatest planner Sam.”

“I know that,” Sam hissed, face heating up as Sebastian let out another string of laughter, louder and less-controlled.

See, this was a conversation he could actually have with Puck, because Puck wasn’t all that smart either. At least Sam was passing all his classes, which was more than what could be said for Puck.

“Okay, this?” Sebastian began, wiping a few tears from his eyes. “This has made this entire ordeal worth it. Though I must ask how you knew Sam had…” he gestured vaguely towards the blond. “How did you know-?”

“He’s gay?” Puck raised his eyebrows, looking bored. Unimpressed even.

“Bi,” Sam piped up, just for the record.

Probably would have been more effective if Puck hadn’t just talked over him. “Sam’s a lot of things dude, but he’s not inconsiderate. Even he wouldn’t be gullible enough to let you back in if he wasn’t getting something in return.”

“Also,” the mohawked teen continued, cutting off Sebastian before he could make a witty reply. “You’re acting nice to him. Only him. Come on man, it’s not exactly rocket science.”

“I could actually like him,” Sebastian offered, draping an across the Sam’s shoulders and leaning into him. “He’s kind of cute.”

“Dude,” Puck raised an eyebrow at him. “We all know you’re psycho over Blaine.” He nodded towards Sam. “No offence dude.”

“Totally un-offended,” Sam assured.

“Not offended.” Sebastian made the correction without ever taking his eyes off of Puck. “Look Sad Sack, we’re both benefitting from this situation okay?” He moved his free hand to Sam’s hip until he was pretty much draped across the blond’s back, nuzzling the side of his face again. “I get to crush Carmel, assuming you people pull your shit together and, trust me, I will make you pull your shit together, and Sam…” Sebastian turned towards him, furrowing his eyebrows. “Dave, was it? Yeah, Sam will get his boy Dave all worked up.” He smiled, but there was no comfort there, only danger. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we have another duet to work on.”

“Watch your back Evans,” Puck called as Sebastian all but dragged him from the classroom. Sam threw a quick thumbs up over his shoulder to show he understood, and then it was back to speed walking as Sebastian blazed ahead, towards the parking lot.

“Dude, could you slow down?” he asked, struggled to keep up. “And we have to do another duet?”

The first one had been hard enough to pick out.

He hadn’t actually expected Sebastian to stop, so Sam was sure it was entirely understandable when he bowled into the other teen’s back whenever he ground to a halt. The brunette worked with it though; maneuvering (somehow) so that he had an arm around Sam’s waist as he considered whatever it was that had caught his attention in the first place.

Sam looked up, squinting at the bulletin board as he tried to regain his bearings. It took him a few seconds to see the poster.

Well, not the poster. Not the one that had been hounding him for pretty much the last few days.

A new one.

That didn’t make it better.

“Sebastian-” Sam started, once he took in the image, teeth grinding together in an unpleasant pinch. The dude was supposed to be pretending to be nice to him.

“Would I have had time for this?” Sebastian asked distractedly, eyes still focused on the glossy paper taped up to the wall.

There were a flurry of the new flyers surrounding Dave and Quinn’s perfectly perfect posters from before, pink and sparkling and – might he say – very well photoshopped.

It wasn’t a bad picture of him, was what Sam was saying.

Sebastian wouldn’t have done it, maybe he had paid someone else to, but he himself-

The other teen snapped his fingers, looking thoughtful. “But you know who would have? Who hates you?”

Sam didn’t even get to ask ‘Who?’ (and he really wanted to, for the record, because this was a response he actually knew as opposed to everything else where he was floundering, so far away from standard procedure it wasn’t even funny) when he was blind-sided by a distant friend, one that hadn’t visited in a couple of weeks and frankly, one he didn’t miss.

The slushie caught him in the side of the face completely, drenching his side, soaking his shirt, causing his hair to plaster unappealing against the side of his face in a purple hodge-podge of dejected scruff.

So that question pretty much answered itself.

Sebastian, Sam noticed, didn’t even get a drop on him, showing that Strando had taken to heart the brunette’s warning from just a few days before.

“Best of luck on your Prom Queen nomination Evans!” the bully cheered as Sam tried to recover, sending a two fingered solute over his shoulder. “Thought you’d like to test out a new color for when you pick out a dress.”

Strando’s wingmen (and Sam swore they swooped in from out of nowhere, like they had been waiting in the rafters or something) were quick to hand out the high fives, laughing too loud and overly obnoxious, motioning to the new posters spamming the walls as though they were their greatest triumph.

So, okay, they had managed to photoshop a tiara onto Sam’s head on a pink sparkly background, big whoop. It wasn’t the worst thing that had been done to Sam’s image, and it wasn’t like people would actually vote for him anyway. That gag had already been done, minus ten points for unoriginality Strando.

Still, Prom Queen posters for Sam. It was kind of nice, in a creepy stalker way.

“For the record,” Sebastian said, giving what could pass as a mildly pitying looks to Sam’s pathetic appearance. “I was going to say him.”

“Yeah,” Sam spat out a mouthful of slushie. “I guessed as much.”

“We can make this work though,” Sebastian continued, as though he hadn’t heard the blond. “These are rather nice posters.”

Sam frowned as he brushed away the extra ice, the cold already numbing most of his side. “In what way can we-?”

He paused when it hit him.

“Oh,” Sam said.

That was all he had, actually. He knew where this was going; he just didn’t really know what else to say.

“Yes Pooky,” Sebastian began with mock sweetness. “If you want a fake prom date, we are going to do this the fake-proper way.”

“Does that even exist?” Sam asked. He wasn’t sure what it gained him besides time, but he genuinely wanted to know, so…

“Yes,” Sebastian decided with a nod. “It does.” He turned his critical gaze towards Sam. “And it’s going to involve a lot more duets.” After a moment, he added, “And posters.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.”

“Fake prom date,” Sebastian repeated. “Gonna fake do-it-right.” He frowned, looking the blond up and down with a subdued look of disdain before sighing. “Now go hit the showers, I’m not letting you in my car like this.”

“Guard the door?” Sam asked, doing his best to look pitiful.

It wouldn’t earn him any sympathy, but it might entertain Sebastian long enough that he would consider having Sam’s back.

Sebastian contemplated his suggestion, not even attempting to conceal his default expression of boredom, before he eventually rolled his eyes.

Fine Pooh bear,” he sighed, motioning in the general direction of the locker room. “As you’re fake boyfriend-”

“Prom date.”

“Suitor,” Sebastian countered with a meaningful look. “I will defend your virtue.” After a moment, he added. “However little of it there may be.”

Ha ha,” Sam rolled his eyes. “You’re so funny.” He narrowed his gaze at the brunette, conscious to keep his backpack on his clean side as they walked towards the showers. “Funny looking.”

“Oh joy,” Sebastian droned. “I’m fake-dating-”

“Suiting.”

“-a five year old.”

“A five year old, with abs,” Sam corrected, lifting up his mostly sodden shirt to reveal the six pack in question.

He did it partly because it was immature and Sebastian had to tolerate that, no matter how much he didn’t want to, and partly because…

The brunette’s eyes, as he suspected they would be, were glued to the slow movement of the fabric, the slushie remains causing the shirt to revolt against natural movement and stick to his abs, pulling away slowly, gradually.

Ah ha.

Sex appeal.

It was just like Sam had said at Sectionals. People like sex appeal.

Okay, maybe he could do this. Maybe he could handle Sebastian.

Just so long as Sebastian wasn’t the one handling him.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“Give them time, you said.”

“Kurt.”

“It won’t be fixed overnight, you said.”

Kurt.”

“They can work it out for themselves, you said.”

“Actually, I don’t believe those exact words were ever used,” Mike piped up, trying to throw some support behind Rachel before Kurt completely steamrolled her with a rampage of flowery chiding. The critical gaze which had been fixed to the petite brunette (who was more than capable of handling its onslaught), turned to Mike with unforgiving sharpness, causing him to huddle back into his chair.

Tina, who had been stuck staring dumbly at the door Sam and Sebastian had so easily waltzed out of, as many of the others were, took a break from her trance to give Kurt a cursory look of warning.

Appropriately, Kurt backed off, though it didn’t do much to fix his mood.

He sighed, rubbing a dramatic hand across his face. “This is a disaster.”

“Is Dave going to be okay?” Finn asked. He, like Rachel, had been on the receiving end of Kurt’s displeasure too many times for it to really phase him anymore, so what concern he had was completely focused carrying out his leader duties.

As one, they turned, staring at the far end of the risers where Dave, flanked by Blaine and Quinn, was still staring at the door in utter confusion.

Okay, good, he was still in a state of shock. They could work with that.

“I think they broke him,” Brittany not-so-quite ‘stage’ whispered, snuggling up against Santana and giving the teen in question an epic case of pity eyes.

“‘He' is still in here,” Dave murmured, his eyes still locked on the door. “And ‘he’ can still hear you.”

It came to the shock of absolutely no one that no damns were given about this.

“And there’s nothing to work out,” he added. After that he went back to staring at the door.

The rest of them went back to allowing him to pretend that was actually true.

They didn’t try very hard.

“Sebastian?” Kurt asked, raking a hand through his perfectly groomed hair, exasperated. “Really? I mean, Sebastian?”

“Desperate times called for desperate measures,” Santana drawled. She was using one of her little pen knives to pick dirt out from under her nails.

“There were no desperate measures,” Dave insisted, still refusing eye contact. “Sam’s just a nice guy.”

“You.” Santana pointed her knife at him. “Go back to brooding, let the adults talk.”

This actually got Dave’s attention. “The ‘adults’ are spreading rumors.”

“Dave,” Kurt began, his eyes half open in a look of bored annoyance. “The only one here that believes that is you.”

“Could you at least wait for me to leave?”

Kurt dismissed this with a scoff. “I think it would benefit us all if we sorted out this nonsense with at least one of you, and since Sam is having a temporary foray into insanity-”

“He’s. A nice. Guy.” Dave didn’t look particularly pleased to have to repeat this point.

Kurt didn’t look like he particularly gave a shit. “He is. But this? Come on David, you know there’s more to this than pure altruism.”

Dave shrugged, shifting uncomfortably. “Maybe Sebastian just went after who he thought would be the easiest target.”

“Bullshit,” Santana glared daggers at the offending teenager, her grip tightening around her small knife. “No one here is buying that song but you, Karofsky. And you’re only trying to sell it because you head is firmly up your ass.”

Outwardly, Dave didn’t look all that upset by her diatribe, but Dave wasn’t one to express things when he got angry. When it was important, he kind of shut down, his eyes hard and steely, like he was a professional.

He kept a certain level of detachment, was what Mike meant.

Probably came from having to lie about his sexuality for so long.

“Watch it Santana,” the jock warned. His voice was steady, calm, but there was a hint of threat in there, like Old-Dave. Mike wasn’t sure if that was intentional or not.

“Watch what Karofsky?” Her smile was the sweetness that covered pure villainy, like a lion approaching its prey. “If I remember correctly, you’re due a minor beat down for hurting my boy Sammy.”

Dave’s eyebrows rose slowly. He was going for disbelief, and Mike would have bought it if his fists weren’t shaking. Beside him, Quinn placed a hand against his bicep, grounding him, maybe.

Since when had they gotten so close?

“Does Sam look hurt to you?” Dave asked. He probably meant for it to be sarcastic, but Mike could tell it hit too close to a soft spot for him because no, no Sam hadn’t.

He had looked pretty happy, actually. It was one of the things that disturbed Mike the most.

“He recruited Sebastian.” Santana drew the name out, as though she were speaking to a particularly slow child. “He wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t aching.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Dave declared, rising to his feet. “Because he would have. He already has, for me.” He considered each of them, the few that had remained behind with hard eyes. “Why wouldn’t he extend the same courtesy to Sebastian?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, and deep down? Mike knew he wouldn’t have listened anyway, so that was most likely for the best. Whatever was going on in that brain of his, something had shut Dave down from being reasoned with. He wasn’t risking his feelings for things he perceived as impossible.

Based on Sam’s reaction a few weeks ago, and that horrible conversation the blond had shared with him during movie night, Mike was not entirely surprised by this, though he was disappointed.

Things were not going so well.

Dave left with his new posse in tow, Blaine sharing a knowing look with Kurt before he followed after the taller teen and Quinn. Probably off to do more campaigning, or something. Or after-school Bully Whips. That was pretty much all they did, nowadays.

Santana waited until the door slammed behind them to release a frustrated sigh, making a rude gesture with her free hand. “Jesus, they’re so stupid.” She turned to Mike, mouth set in an annoyed frown. “I never thought we’d find a bigger pair of idiots than you and Puckerman, but this? This takes stupidity to levels unseen by man, it should be implausible.”

“Agreed,” Kurt said with a deft nod. “Which is why we’re going to start being proactive about this business.”

“Is there anything we can do that won’t exacerbate the situation?”

Nobody jumped, because it wasn’t like anyone had forgotten Artie was there, exactly, they had just been really absorbed with…you know, gossip, and for once he was being unusually quiet so…

He quirked one knowing eyebrow at them. “Nice guys,” he drawled, layering on the sarcasm.

Being the first to either regain, or pretend to regain, their composure, Kurt nodded once more. “Thank you,” he said, as though he had not been caught in the act. “And I believe at this point, how much more damage could we do?”

“And now you’ve jinxed us,” Mike sighed, leaning against his girlfriend dejectedly. They might have had a shot too.

Kurt glared at him. “Don’t be superstitious.”

“He has a point, dude,” Finn said helpfully.

“And you,” Kurt turned to face his stepbrother. “Don’t encourage this.”

“I can see how this would go well,” Artie said, deadpan. Santana snapped in appreciation, and Brittany was quick to follow, never one to miss out on snaps.

What the hell, Mike joined in too.

The door opened with a rough jerk that was followed by a scoff – a sound Mike knew only too well – and Puck strolled into the room casually. He had followed after Sam whenever the blond and his new psychopath had taken their leave.

He viewed them all with mild disgust. “Jesus Christ, I hope you’re snapping because you figured out what to do about this.”

“We’re still working on it,” Rachel assured him, sounding more confident in their total lack of plans than anyone should be. “We were just making the decision to-”

“Gonna be honest, I don’t care about the details, just get something done.” He turned, staring pointedly at Artie. “Wheels man, can you keep an eye on Sebastian? Give us a heads up if he starts doing anything skeevy?”

Artie shrugged. “Sure. Though I doubt I’m the best suited for this task.”

Puck was unaffected by his observation. “Dude, it’s either you or Zizes, and he’ll underestimate you, by like, a lot. Also, out of everyone here you have the most free time so…”

“Rub it in, thanks.” Artie rolled his eyes.

Puck was unapologetic. “Truth hurts, my man. Get a girlfriend and we’ll see about making someone else do the deed.” He fixed a determined gaze on the rest of them, eyes hard because there was business to be done, and Noah Puckerman wasn’t going to let anymore bullshit go down, not on his watch.

It was an expression both Mike and Tina were intimately familiar with. And distracted by.

This may or may not have been obvious to the others.

A ball of crumpled paper pegged Mike on the back of his head.

“We have no time for your hormones,” Kurt chided, whenever Mike turned to look at the offender. “We have planning to do.”

“But-” Tina began.

Planning.” Kurt’s tone left no room for negotiation.

Beside him, Finn looked almost sympathetic. ‘Just go with it’, he mouthed.

Kurt didn’t even look away from glaring at Mike and Tina when he smacked his brother on the back of his head and that too, Mike could tell, was well practiced.

“Circle up people,” Kurt ordered, ignoring Finn’s hurt expression or Tina’s urge for ‘Just five minutes’. “We have planning to do.”

Mike eyed the line up: Rachel, Finn, Kurt, Santana, Brittany, Artie, Tina, Puck, and himself.

Hell, if the nine of them could not figure out an appropriate end for this thing, it wasn’t going to happen.

At least, not well.

Chapter Text

Sam paused; head tilted to the side as he examined his work with the most critical of eyes, and frowned. Something was missing, it still didn’t look quite right.

He tilted his head the other way, straining his neck as he tried to inspect every possible angle, and frowned some more.

This was not going as swimmingly as he had hoped.

Eventually he shrugged, then tore the poster down, taping up its replacement in that particularly anal way Sebastian had instructed him to (‘loop the tape, Sam; we don’t want to blemish the poster, Sam”), slapping it up on the wall carelessly. So what if it was a little tilted? If it was perfectly perfect like Mr. Super-Duper-Anal-Retentive wanted them to be, no one would believe Sam had even helped with the posters. They wanted some kind authenticity here if it was to be believable.

Also, based on Sebastian’s current hanging rate of five minutes per poster, they wouldn’t be able to replace all of Strando’s flyers before prom. Which would cut into campaign time. And after the big ordeal Sebastian put him through shooting the pictures for the new posters, Sam was determined to make sure each and every one of them saw the light of day.

It wasn’t that Strando’s posters were bad, exactly (if you ignored the part where they attempted to be horribly offensive), it was just that Sebastian kind of put all other divas to shame (sorry Rachel) and there was no way he would, quote, “Let your badly-dyed hair hog all the spotlight” when they were going to prom as a ‘couple’. After the initial fuss of the photo shoot, Sam could say he honestly didn’t care, because how better to put his money where his mouth was than broadcasting it on every single wall all over the school? Honestly, it was freakin’ genius.

He could almost admit that he was proud of himself.

They kept the sparkly background at Sebastian’s insistence. When Sam had asked why, the other teen had mentioned something about ‘stereotypical humor striking a chord with certain target demographics’ and then Sam had started zoning him out in favor of saving brain space for stuff like choreography and fluent Na’vi. Priorities, and all that.

The question as to why Sam still had to wear the stupid tiara was met with a similar explanation, like ‘balancing gender roles to compliment the designated ‘straight man’ of the duo with countering symbolism, bler-bler-bler, I went to private school and I’m super smart and stuff’.

Seriously, half the words Sebastian used Sam was sure had been made up, but he refused to risk calling him out on them on the off-hand chance Sam was seriously wrong. Because Sebastian would mock him. Unceasingly. Whenever it was just the two of them strolling down the hall, the brunette’s arm around his neck, leaning too close to be considered just friendly in a perfect picture of ‘look at how couple-y this couple is’, the brunette never missed the opportunity to poke fun at Sam’s comparatively limited vocabulary.

When Sam had tried to argue a rebuttal by way of ‘the language of impersonations’, Sebastian had laughed at him for two solid minutes. And then demanded more Sean Connery.

Which, in Sam’s opinion, was a start.

Like, don’t get him wrong; they weren’t friends in even the loosest of terms, but they had this working relationship thing down to an art. Sebastian did his smoozing lovey-dovey act whenever they had an audience and Sam, in turn, tried to back the guy during glee rehearsal if he had a good idea. Though, Sam must elaborate, only about two in every five were good ideas. The rest were barely-concealed scathing criticisms that had Mercedes aiming at his throat and Santana sharpening her hair knives, but the ideas for choreography and stuff (that weren’t like, absurd) Sam backed him on. Figuratively.

Sebastian was the only one to do it literally, and they had promised not to speak of that again.

Satisfied with his placement, Sam gave his work a pleased nod and moved on to the next spot Strando had coated with posters, and carefully set about removing each of the non-Sebastian featuring papers.

Sam had to say, when Sebastian went for something, he freakin committed to it. Their superior flyers were bigger than Stando’s, had way more ‘depth of color’ and were printed with a nice, muted gloss. Enough to make them look expensive, not enough to blind people in the bad florescent lighting. Sam had tried to argue that they might be over doing it, like, they could alienate some people by making them think they were stuck up or something, but Sebastian had only raised an eyebrow and pointed out that if they made it past the same sex couple business, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about the poster’s sheen.

He had been really smarmy about it too.

Sam might have taped his face in retaliation. Sebastian might have responded in kind.

There might have been a tape war. There may have been some uncomfortable minutes after they realized they were quite literally taped together where they struggled to find scissors.

They might have found scissors. And struggled for them.

Sebastian might have won. Sam might not want to think about what had happened after this victory. He tended to get all Southern Belle flustered when he did.

But that wasn’t really the point at all.

They don’t have prom at Dalton. Sam remembered Blaine vaguely mentioning it, because it was an all-boys private school and all that, but it hadn’t really sunk in until Sebastian started throwing his whole heart into their fake ruse. Galas, they had. Even balls (and how cool was that? An actual ball) with a nearby all-ladies private school, but no proms.

If Sam didn’t know better, he would say Sebastian was approaching this as a sort of cultural experiment, carefully examining this thing he would normally never have. Then again, Sam might be humanizing Sebastian too much, which he tended to do as a pitiful way of coping. Odds were Sebastian was just a crazy sociopath.

Pleasant thought, that one.

Sam dumped Strando’s old posters into the recycling bin he had been dragging behind him, careful to remove all the tape in order to properly dispose of them. Principal Figgins had stopped him once, clearly confused and maybe at least partially concerned, but then Sam had explained the updated posters, using as much of Sebastian terminology as he could possibly remember, and the principal left before confusion defeated him.

Some people knew the value of a tactful retreat.

Down the hallway, there was a flurry of movement – crisp red and white, vibrant against the otherwise dull lockers – making a beeline for Sam.

He had been expecting this. He had also kind of been hoping she would have gone for Sebastian instead, but…

“What the hell are you doing?” Quinn said, her voice cool and level, but severely pissed. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“No joke.” Sam kept his eyes on the posters, putting the replacements up with extreme care. “Strando’s were supposed to be, but these are legit.”

“Fabulous,” Quinn drawled, utter lack of inflection enough to show Sam it really wasn’t. “I was afraid you had only gone partially insane. Now I know you’re completely committed.”

Sam paused in his work, frowning at the cheerleader. “Now that was just hurtful.”

“Insanity Sam,” Quinn continued, in that ‘I know everything, so listen here’ tone. “First you’re bringing that psycho-”

“I never said he wasn’t crazy,” Sam defended, because he hadn’t.

Quinn shot him a very unimpressed look. “And you think admitting he’s crazy and vouching for him anyway somehow makes this better?”

“No.” Though it did make him feel better. “But he can help us-”

“Help you,” Quinn corrected, eyes narrowing. “You mean.” She shot a contemplating look at his posters. She probably knew exactly how much they had cost, could tell by the grain of the…paper, or something. “What’s this all about Sam?”

The blond frowned at her, clutching his overpriced posters to his chest involuntarily. “Nothing.”

Conversation done, he turned his eyes down the hallway, staking out his next location. It wasn’t very far, Strando had been thorough.

Quinn, characteristically, did not take the hint. “Really?” she asked, incredulous and bored. “You putting up posters to run for Prom Queen, with Sebastian, is nothing?” She stopped right beside him, but damn her and her ultimate composure, she made it look like he had stopped for her, and not the other way around. “I mean honestly, Sam,” she continued, frowning down at her nails. “You don’t need to make Dave jealous. Quirk a finger, he’ll come running.”

Sam was getting really sick of people telling him that. Mostly because in his experience, Dave hadn’t.

Quinn continued before he could protest. “You wouldn’t do this as a joke, because you wouldn’t hurt Kurt like that. And you aren’t actually dating Sebastian because, again, you wouldn’t hurt Kurt like that.”

“I think you’re putting a lot of faith in my Kurt-related compassion.”

“And I think you’re having a Junior-year crisis,” Quinn countered, raising one eyebrow. “I’ve been doing this longer than you Sam, and frankly, I have done it better, so why don’t we stop with the bullshit and actually start sharing the facts?”

“Because despite what you may believe,” Sam began, jaw clenched tight. “You’re not actually entitled to everyone’s business Quinn.”

“That’s funny,” Quinn murmured, eyes hard and unblinking. “I thought I was just trying to help a friend.”

“Yeah well,” Sam cut off with a swallow, then turned back to his new section of wall. “Don’t.”

He didn’t know why she was bothering him about this. It was her newest-bestest pal Dave who was refusing to get with the program. Why weren’t they bothering him? Why was Sam the one that kept getting thrown under the bus of miscommunications?

Though if Sam were being real with himself, it Dave were, for some reason, to approach him at this exact moment, riding upon a white steed or some shit, and asked Sam to prom with a flutter of his eyelashes (or a flex of his biceps or whatever) Sam wasn’t sure he could actually say yes.

The fact of the matter was, Dave didn’t take him seriously.

And this, as roundabout as it was, could not be stopped until Dave stopped thinking of him as an object that needed to be worked around, to be handled, and started thinking of him as Sam. His bud, his bro. Who he wanted to make out with.

If he didn’t take Sam seriously, then Sam was just going to have to be serious.

So take that everybody else.

“You’re being childish Sam,” Quinn insisted, beginning to sound frustrated. “This is only going to hurt you in the long run.”

Sam shrugged. “My life to hurt.” He grabbed a handful of Strando’s posters carelessly and started ripping off the excess tape, frowning as it stuck to his fingers. “And I’m pretty sure you’re just mad because I’m higher in the polls than you.”

She wouldn’t leave as long as she felt like she had a bone to pick with him, but if Sam could poke at her ticks enough the fury would overwhelm her stubbornness and she would go away. In theory.

“You’re not,” Quinn insisted, but it was totally through clenched teeth and hey – also a complete lie, because he was.

Sam didn’t know why Jacob Israel deemed it necessary to take new surveys every day, but Sam wasn’t going to begrudge a guy his hobbies. Especially when they helped to reassure Sebastian’s slight power-madness.

There was a chance the brunette was still behind Dave in the polls by a few points, and when he wasn’t pretending this didn’t bother him with an all-knowing sneer, Sebastian had been insufferable.

Probably another reason for the fancy posters. Ego.

Even though his focus was firmly fixed to making little loops of duct tape (and then keeping said loops from sticking his fingers together), Sam could distinctly feel Quinn’s vicious glare boring into he side of his face. If looks could kill, his body would be a pile of ashes she would have saved in a little pot and cursed her enemies with, demeaning it at every opportunity. She’d probably stick them in the cafeteria food somehow. She was mean like that.

“When this comes back to bite you in the ass,” Quinn murmured, her voice deadly. “I am going to say ‘I told you so’, and I am going to laugh.”

With that, she turned on her heel and flounced off, her short ponytail swinging menacingly behind her like the hand of a metronome, counting down to his destruction.

Woah, not a pretty thought. Sam was actually beginning to depress himself there.

Nope, no, he was not going to let Quinn rattle him, that was exactly what she wanted. He was onto her. Sure, she acted all nice and super Christian but behind that pretty smile was the heart of a killer, and a heap of issues Sam wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Sam suspected it had something to do with her time on the Cheerios warping her social conditioning. The fact that Kurt had only looked thoughtful whenever he had suggested this was not something Sam found comforting.

But back to the posters. The posters were nice, safe, a mindless task. Sam applied his carefully crafted tape loops to the back of his new poster and slapped it against the wall, this time purposefully making it look crooked. For added character.

“I don’t think Sebastian will appreciate your technique very much.”

“Sebastian uses a laser level and about eight minutes too many to hang these things up,” Sam replied, smoothing down the corners of his latest work. “So he has no room to talk.”

“Is this your way of getting back at him then?” Kurt asked. It seemed like a legitimate question, no judgment in his tone, only mild curiosity. “Is that how you keep him in check?”

Sam laughed. “There is no ‘Keeping him in check’, there is only repaying annoyances in kind.”

He smiled at Kurt, knowing he was playing very close to the line here. He hoped the other teen would see that he was taking satisfaction where he could, and not underestimating his responsibility here with the potential danger that was Sebastian.

Kurt managed a tiny smile back. “Whatever works, I suppose.”

Sam half-expected for Kurt to follow this up with a weary sigh and a premade lecture about how irresponsible and selfish he was being, that he was a fool – but Kurt only followed along beside him in silence, occasionally handing him a new poster, and helping him with tape-related issues on others.

If this was an attempt to mindtrick Sam into pouring his heart out, Kurt was off by a long shot. Sam had been there, done that, and now he was just committed.

However, there was one thing he honestly wanted to know.

“Does this bother you?” Sam asked, motioning to the poster in his hands.

Kurt blinked in confusion, looking up from his task of creating perfectly uniform tape loops, and smiled. “I think it’s a very dashing photo of you. Sebastian did a good job of picking out your outfit.”

“Yeah, I-”

Sebastian had bought the shirt, which had worried Sam at first, but it looked like the same stuff all the other guys were wearing, nothing like, Paris Couture or any of the outrageous stuff Kurt tended to wear (the rhino broach was cool, but Sam did not understand the ‘fashion’ behind most of the stuff Kurt wore). It was softer than anything Sam had ever worn, sturdy, and, more importantly, it was the perfect shade of blue to match his eyes, which Sebastian had been insistent on.

If he was going to ‘disgrace himself’ with a freakin’ lettermen jacket, the least he could do was play to his strongest features, the brunette had said.

Beside him, Sebastian looked debonair and collected, not a thread out of place, but still somehow casual. In a blazer, that guy managed casual. How, Sam would never know.

Kurt was right, it wasn’t a bad shot.

Even though Kurt knew exactly what Sam had been asking, the blond chose to clarify anyway. “Thanks, but I meant, are you okay with me, you know…”

“Running for Prom Queen?” Kurt asked, looking vaguely amused. “Sam, I am all about turning this thing around on whoever started this tasteless joke and using it to empower yourself. In this, I support you.”

“Thanks,” Sam said, and there really was no way to express just how relieved he felt.

“You’re welcome,” Kurt replied, handing him another poster. “I think it’s actually pretty clever. Almost like you’re taunting them.”

“That’s not-” Sam frowned, slapping on the new poster almost thoughtlessly before moving on to the next spot. “I mean, that’s kind of a perk, but that wasn’t the point.”

“Then what is the point Sam?” Kurt asked.

Sam could tell he was really close to condescending that time, nearing the edge of his patience. Okay, so that was what Kurt was here for.

Sam ripped down a few of Strando’s posters, flicking them to the ground behind him. “The point is that I control my life Kurt. Me. I get to call the shots, and if-” he ripped another handful down, fingers shaking in frustration. “I want to run for Prom Queen-”

“With Sebastian,” Kurt added, standing motionless, not making any move to clean up Sam’s mess.

There was a metaphor in there, or something.

“With Sebastian,” Sam echoed. “Then I’m going to. Because I can. Because life is short.”

“Because you’re trying to make Dave jealous.”

“Because it keeps Sebastian amused, and an amused Sebastian is a less hostile Sebastian.”

“And is this all that you’re doing for his ‘amusement’?” Kurt asked, using a disquieting inflection on the last word. “Or is there more than this, Sam?”

Unwillingly, Sam had a flashback to the aftermath of the tape-war-of-which-he-did-not-speak, and very appropriately turned an unpleasant shade of pink. Because that was his life.

“Nope.” Sam kept his eyes stubbornly on the wall, pressing on his newest poster with intense focus. “This is it.”

Kurt’s disapproval was so heavy it was almost a tactile thing, real and solid and unbearable on Sam’s shoulders. Or maybe it was disappointment, disbelief, every dis-word – or hey, maybe just a diss, ha- but Sam ignored it just like he ignored Quinn’s dagger eyes, because he didn’t owe them anything. He was his own person; he could make his own calls.

“If you’re sure Sam,” Kurt said. It sounded like a dismissal rather than a confirmation.

Hey, see, even Kurt could acknowledge when he was arguing with an unyielding force.

“Yeah, I-” Sam turned in time to get a good view of Kurt’s back as he strolled away. Glide smooth and confident.

It didn’t surprise Sam; even if he thought it would be a bit more of a fight. And he definitely wasn’t disappointed at the loss of company, because it wasn’t like the rest of the glee club had started avoiding him ever since he began hanging out with Sebastian. They weren’t petty like that. They didn’t throw evil eyes his way.

And even if that was actually the case, Sam wouldn’t be a loser and call them out on it, seeing as Sebastian was kind of an acquired taste.

The only one who had seemed to have grown used to it was Artie, which had not been something Sam was expecting at all. But hey, he took his victories where he could. At least there was still one bro that consistently had his back.

With a sigh that had nothing to do with disappointment, Sam reached down and retrieved the crumpled posters from the ground, tearing off the tape with lazy care.

Was that it then? Was anyone else going to ambush him?

Maybe they were all just waiting around the corner, preparing to swoop in one after the other until his tiny brain was overwhelmed by their smart person logic. Or worse, Rachel would come by again and try to be sympathetic. And maybe she was good at that for like, Dave but she kind of sucked at empathy as far as Sam was concerned. Tended to make him feel a little worse. It was a skill.

The next movement Sam caught coming towards him was also decked in red – shiny coat, stupid hat – but walked at a more subdued pace, less like it owned the world and more like a librarian, was Sam’s first thought, timid and careful, coming to a stop a few feet away.

Dave was unsure if he was welcome.

It was not an unfounded hesitation, as he wasn’t.

His hands were fidgeting against his backpack straps and no, Sam didn’t know that because he had looked at him or anything, it was just that he could feel the pure uncertainty from over here, and when Dave was all nerves his hands couldn’t keep still. Sometimes.

Sam had a feeling he didn’t actually know as much about Dave as he would like to.

“May I ask what you’re doing?” Dave said eventually, examining Sam’s routine with a confused eye.

“Campaigning,” Sam replied, the epitome of cool civility. He wanted to say something else, like ‘no’ or ‘fuck off’ or Brittany’s personal favorite ‘Talk to the hand, fool’ , but those would be strong emotional reactions, as Sebastian liked to call them, and would make Dave think Sam cared about what he did. Which he didn’t.

Unless it was about dating Sam, but those kinds of things were inherent in the system, and therefore ignored.

There was an uneasy pause, like Dave hadn’t expected Sam to be up front about it- or maybe he wanted some blabbered foundering, like he was waiting for Sam to crumble under pressure – before Dave decided to continued.

“We were taking the posters down,” Dave explained, motioning to the half-full recycling bin. “Blaine and I. You don’t have to do this.”

Sam shrugged. “He would just put up more.” Strando would, he was perpetually that guy that was oblivious to how flat his joke had fallen. “Figured I might as well use it to my advantage.”

“You mean Sebastian did.”

“I mean I did,” Sam turned to glare at Dave, restraining himself at the last second form planting his hands on his hips. “You’re being an ass again.”

You know, when you do that thing where you think I’m too dumb for my own good.

Dave hesitated, mildly abashed, and swallowed. “Why are you doing this Sam?”

Because of you, idiot.

“Because I’m taking Sebastian to prom,” Sam said confidently, the same speech he had been practicing a hundred times in wait for this moment. “If I’m going to have Prom Queen posters up anyway, I might as well do it right.” And then he added, with no hidden meaning, “Like a gentleman would.”

So smoke on that, you ass.

He was killing too much time here. Sam had stuff to do, posters to rip down, tape to not get trapped in. Carefully, he tore off a few more strips of duct tape and started rolling them into circles, eyeing the wall critically for the most strategic spot.

“You don’t have anything to prove to me.”

Despite the fact that Sam had been mentally preparing himself for Dave to say something completely pretentious or horrible since the moment he had shown up, Sam couldn’t help but feel like he had been blitzed by the statement. Like all his armor had been stripped away by rough, uncaring hands to make room for that particular dagger.

The edges of the poster crinkled in his hands, but Sam hung the damn thing anyway, uncaring of Sebastian’s future complaints. It was still good. Maybe a little bent, but that didn’t make it worthless.

Another metaphor. Sam should be writing these down.

Dave trailed dutifully after him as Sam marched over to his next stop, movement a few rigid jerks. “Not everything’s about you Dave.”

Even if in this one particular instance, it kind of was, and Sam wanted him to know that. Moreover, he also wanted Dave to appreciate that, instead of telling him to back down, or that it wasn’t necessary. Sam wanted Dave to be proud of the gestures he was making, he wanted him to trust and respect him, he wanted him to stop being stupid.

Sam wanted to ask, more than almost anything in the world, what exactly he had to do to get Dave to believe he was serious. Because he would do it. He wouldn’t even think about it.

But it couldn’t be all him doing things, right? There had to be a balance, Dave needed to prove stuff too.

Now Dave had to prove Sam could be his equal, even if it killed him.

“Look,” Sam said, somehow shaking off all the building frustration and focusing on his work, pulling one poster down at a time. “I am taking Sebastian to prom. I want the whole school to know that I am taking Sebastian to prom, and if that means anything to you, then great. Awesome. If it doesn’t…”

Just let me know so I can be depressed now, instead of waiting for later.

Might as well get it out of the way, right?

“I understand.”

Sam blinked, the world snapping back into focus as he digested Dave’s words. When he turned to look at the other teen, his eyes were sharp with a different kind of intensity. It was strong, Sam didn’t doubt that, but there was also a certain something to them he didn’t quite recognized.

He wondered if it was a good thing.

“I understand Sam,” Dave repeated, and then he was turning on his heel and walking away, one foot in front of the other.

Just as easy as pie.

Sam had a feeling he had said something there. Something in his words that he hadn’t meant to say that he might have said anyway, that Dave must have heard because Dave was an oxymoron of smart and insanely brain-damaged all in one.

With a sigh, Sam surrendered to the urge to bang his head against the wall, and wondered why he even bothered trying sometimes.

-:-:-:-:-:-

For the record, Dave was not being oblivious. A great deal of the glee club would determinedly state a differing case, but as their opinions were automatically invalid, on the basis that they were not, in fact, Dave, he wasn’t going to pay them any heed.

Usually obliviousness would be better outsourced to the person not in question, but as they as a majority had decided to abandon all logic in favor of wild fancy, or worse, hope, then Dave couldn’t really trust them to give it to him straight, now could he?

Kurt was useless. Finn was useless. Rachel, haunting him all hours of the day with those especially dreamy eyes and ‘Just think about it Dave’s was very close to driving him to the brink of insanity, and it seemed unfair to even have her at fault were that the case, simply on the basis of telling him exactly what he wanted to hear.

They were short-sighted, was all. They didn’t get it, they didn’t see.

It was almost like Dave was the only one who noticed how stupidly well Sam and Sebastian got along. It was a shameful rejection on two counts, and Dave had never bothered saying anything about it even though he knew perfectly well Sebastian remembered him.

It hadn’t been one of Dave’s prouder nights. Okay, so it had been, because he had been riding the high of accepting himself. That combined with the support of the small community that was nothing but welcoming made Dave stupid. On happiness. Happiness-stupid, which was about as effective as regular-stupid when it came to affecting the decision making process.

Even across the bar (and yeah, Dave wasn’t all that proud of having a fake ID for a gay bar, but it was the only way he could ‘be with his people’, so he had done it), Dave could see that Sebastian was kind of a douche. A self-involved player who wasn’t looking for anything more than a good time. He didn’t want anything long-term, or anything particularly nice, the only thing he desired was a crazy ride and in a split-second decision heavily influenced by this emotional euphoria, Dave had decided he could be the guy to give it to him.

Despite all his daydreaming on certain physical interactions, Dave had never truly engaged in them with anyone of his persuasion. On that fact alone, he had definitely been in over his head, but combined with Sebastian’s rather sparkling attitude, Dave’s plight had been doomed from the start, and all he had bothered to say was “Hi”.

There was a reason it had taken Dave so long to work up the courage to ask, or even think about asking, anyone out after that, was all he was saying.

The criticisms had come out in a downpour, fast and furious and biting; shredding Dave’s esteem completely before he had even known what was going on. He hadn’t known he could even have so many faults, and those had purely been the aesthetic ones. Sebastian’s little diatribe on his mental imperfections had purely been speculatory, but by the looks of it, the theories had been specified to his person, as opposed to being mere generalizations he fed every guy he didn’t like the looks of.

Dave had never left the bar so quickly before. It had taken him weeks to even risk going back, and that time he had simply stared at the faded exterior before driving away and never going back, deciding to stick to the anonymity of internet message boards. It eliminated the face-to-face aspect, yeah, but at least there everyone tried to be friendly.

It wasn’t until Mike that Dave had actually ‘gotten action’, so to speak (that was reciprocated), and the fact that the dancer was actually a giant goofball and really kind and loyal and-

It stressed the importance of internal beauty to Dave, who recognized that it was a heavily weighted factor when it came to determining his attraction to someone.

When he looked at Sebastian now, all he could see was a scuzzball.

Which - according to some quick judgments of Kurt’s, Blaine’s, Finn’s, Santana, everyone’s expressions - was an entirely accurate deduction.

And now that awful human being was dating Sam.

The worst part about what was easily the worst situation, was that he didn’t even treat Sam badly.

They bickered, yeah, but all couples bickered. They had banter and chiding and pet names, they had their own routine and their own language and just a subset of interactions that were strictly for the other person alone. Sam did goofy impression and Sebastian mocked him, then demanded more. Sebastian opened doors for the blond and Sam created an impressionistic finger painting of his boyfriend that Sebastian happily mocked, but had hanging in his locker regardless.

Whatever kindness Sebastian had, he saved it for Sam. Sometimes he complimented the blond on his singing, sometimes he made fun of his dancing, but then he would find a way to help Sam learn choreography so that it actually stayed in his head.

There were moments – and apparently Dave was the only one who saw these because anytime he brought it up Quinn just rolled her eyes – where Sebastian looked at Sam with such unrestrained affection that Dave honestly felt uncomfortable for witnessing it. Of course it was only when Sam was looking somewhere else. Of course no one would believe Dave when he explained it. Of course Sebastian wouldn’t so much as send him a smug look in retaliation, because Sebastian hadn’t even noticed, he was too busy with Sam.

Blaine was insistent that Sam was just trying to make him jealous, but Dave knew sympathetic consolation when he heard it. It was exactly what he thought it was.

Sam was good, so good, and so nice, and so... he had enough love for everyone, if you let him. Even Sebastian. Sam could even find the good parts of Sebastian and somehow make the brunette reciprocate in kind. Everyone else had to be crazy. What, did they think Sebastian would have given his blackmail tape to just anyone? He trusted Sam. Sam had done that, because he was that good.

And it wasn’t just the…whatever Sebastian offered that had Sam going all goo-goo eyed for him. Dave knew what this was really all about.

Sebastian was out. Out and proud and he did not give a damn who knew or what they thought about it. This was a part of him he shared without remorse, without regret, and if someone didn’t like him for it he either verbally ripped them a new one or he cranked up the charm to ludicrous levels until they did. Sam had asked Sebastian to prom because he was bi, and he was sure he was bi, and he wanted to experiment with the male-part of that attraction with someone who was confident and secure and would gladly walk beside him and let the world know what they were feeling. That they wanted Sam back, and had him, and screw everybody else, this was happening and they better deal with it.

Dave still wasn’t officially out yet. Symbolically, he had. In effigy, as a gesture, he stood for all unspoken minorities at McKinley, but that wasn’t really the same.

Sam knew that, and was unimpressed by it. And even if he had been willing to wait around for Dave, what would really be the point if Dave wouldn’t even hold his hand in the hallway?

That wasn’t a problem for him now. Sebastian would gladly rub it in anyone’s face how much he was allowed to hang all over Sam. An arm around the neck here, nuzzling his face into the blond’s neck there, cheek kisses, hand holding, half hugs, whole hugs, hands on hips for choreography demonstrations that didn’t require that kind of stuff.

And Sam met all of it with a smile, like he was glad to hang out with someone who wasn’t a coward.

It was a confirmation, was all this was. A wakeup call to remind Dave of the facts he already knew. It wasn’t a punishment. Anything he felt in regards to Sam’s situation were purely brought about by his own hand– hope, yearning – that was on him. He had known better. And despite everything that happened he still, to this very moment, wanted it to be a lie. He wanted them to have a chance.

But it didn’t matter.

Sam had gotten something good for him, and he was happy with it, in what? How many days had passed since their argument? Five? Six? How many days had passed since Sam had attempted to serenade him in the costume closet? How many days ago had Dave reduced him to tears, tears, because the blond had felt so strongly, so true?

And just how long did it take for Dave to get replaced? A weekend? Was it even less than that? Did it even matter?

It didn’t. Sam didn’t. Dave didn’t. It was high school. What the hell mattered about a high school romance anyway?

Dave was a fool for ever getting invested. He wasn’t sure what he had been thinking.

He pledged to let things be, not only for himself, but for Sam. It would be better if he just subtracted himself from the situation. All they had left was Prom, Nationals, finals, and graduation. Dave just had to make it through that. Afterwards, his life could begin. He didn’t need to bother Sam anymore, or Sebastian.

His feet found their way down a particular hall despite these affirmations, coming to halt beside Kurt, who seemed to have made it to his destination first.

Santana wasn’t all that surprising an addition, but Dave had to wonder why Artie was hanging around. And actively helping, no less.

“You here to give me the talk-down?” Sebastian asked, carefully groomed eyebrows furrowed as he adjusted his laser level, frowning at the wall. “How perfectly predictable, you people might as well get in line.”

“You just keep digging that hole there slick,” Santana drawled, her Bully Whips beret posed at a menacing tilt. The Latina hadn’t so much as blinked when Dave announced the recommencement of the program, and the was pretty sure he hadn’t’ even given back any of her gear, but at school the next day she had been dressed back in red, one eyebrow raised as though asking him what he was going to do about it.

“Make the temptation of turning in that tape of yours all the stronger,” she finished, folding her arms.

Sebastian raised both eyebrows, but didn’t turn away from the wall. “And here I assumed you were people of honor, and all that jazz.” He made a vague waving motion.

“We are,” Dave confirmed. He stopped, unsure of what to say after that, but Kurt kept talking for him.

“No worries,” the shorter teen murmured with a frozen smile. “She’s mostly talk.”

At this, Sebastian gave an appropriately dubious look. “Somehow I find that doubtful.”

“And this is why you live,” Santana smirked, clapping her hands together.

“He lives because we make good on our deals,” Artie explained. His lap was full of those overly-glossed posters, stupid with expense, and there was a recycling bin on the floor beside him. “And because murder is a capital punishment he honestly isn’t worth.”

“You say the sweetest things,” Sebastian said, eyes sliding to a half-mast look of predatory indulgence. Anyone else would have been shaken by it, but Artie remained blankly unaffected.

Dave got the feeling Sebastian actually appreciated that, somehow.

“But do tell,” Sebastian turned back to face Dave, granting him one of those perfect smiles. “What can I do for you Sergeant?”

Now faced with his undivided attention, Dave wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted from Sebastian, or even why he was here. Sure, enough suspicion remained purely based on Blaine’s stories of Sebastian’s antics, so Dave would probably always be wary of him, but seeing the brunette with Sam took most of the fight out of him.

Dave wanted to be angry, to be snappy and mean, but he just couldn’t be. Sam was happy.

He wasn’t doing a very good job of letting go.

When Sebastian realized he wasn’t going to get an answer, he switched tactics, going for an obnoxious taunt. “Think I’m going to hurt dear Sammy?”

Did he?

Dave looked at the stacks of posters in Artie’s lap; at the obvious care. He looked at the fact that Sebastian hadn’t tried decking Sam out to the nines in the photo, didn’t even try to make him anything less than the best version of him. Even in that stupid tiara, Sam looked utterly content in that picture. Happy, charming, side-by-side with Sebastian, looking equally happy and charming.

Dave looked down the hallways of perfectly hung posters, each spaced out evenly, the same distance from the ground, the same distance from each other, all level, all precise, and lovingly hung up. The posters with expensive paper and expensive printing, the posters that proudly called out to anyone who looked at them just who and who else were running for Prom Queen and King together, no shame. No irony. Only truth.

Dave looked at all this and remembered the blackmail tape he had hiding in his dresser at the Berry’s, the same tape he and Rachel listened to and reformatted into a digital copy that they put on every computer and flash drive they had secure access to.

Dave thought about all this, and came to only one conclusion.

“No,” Dave said, meeting Sebastian’s eyes without flinching, without hating, without jealousy. “I honestly don’t.”

He walked away in silence, and through the uncomfortable shifting in his chest, in spite of this, he somehow felt lighter, and he realized that had been the thing he needed to do. Closure.

He could let go now.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“Wow.”

Sebastian said the one thing that was unfortunately on all their minds. Through some means, Kurt managed not to shudder at the implication of his thoughts ever being in sync with that monster’s, but regardless could not help but agree. Wow, indeed.

“That was either the biggest challenge ever,” Sebastian continued, task forgotten as he stared off into the space where Dave had disappeared around the corner. “Or he is the biggest Boy Scout that there ever was.”

“Damn it, Karofsky,” Santana cursed, slamming a fist into an innocent locker. “Why do you keep being decent? And stupid.”

“Decently stupid?” Sebastian offered, still gazing into the distance.

The cheerleader shot him a venomous glare.

This was not helping them.

“It seems your plan, as horribly misguided as it was, has inevitably gone astray,” Kurt noted. He allowed himself to display a momentary weakness in front of the enemy as he reached up to rub at his aching temples, frustrated by the two imbeciles he had come to know as friends.

Seriously people, Kurt thought, I have my own shit to deal with.

NYADA auditions would not prepare themselves, after all.

Despite his better reasoning, Kurt could not help but feel the obligation of sticking around for what would only result in delicious gossip.

Curse his weakness.

Sebastian considered this, then shrugged, turning back to his work. “Not my plan.”

“Can you really blame him though?” Artie, thankfully, spoke up before Santana could get snappy. “Puck said that Sam had asked Dave out first. The guy turned him down.”

“If he is so insistent on being stupidly in denial, why can’t you leave him to his fate?” Sebastian muttered. Tape fell victim to his deft fingers with ruthless efficiency, uniform strips procured with barely any effort. “Why even bother?”

“Because our Sammy boy’s not going to give up.” Santana said, and that pinched expression of annoyance was muted by her all-knowing determination, giving her hips a little more swagger as he moved forward. “Ergo, we are not giving up.”

“Any particular reason you’re saying this around me?” Sebastian asked, applying his tiny loops of tape to each corner of the poster, one at a time.

“You’re one of us now,” Artie shrugged. “So you get in on the fun too.”

“We’re not friends,” Sebastian sighed, weary that he had to deal with such people.

Kurt honestly wasn’t sure how Artie did it, how he refused any frustration in favor a sly smile.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it.”

When it earned him a smirk, an honest, sincere smirk of approval, Kurt looked to Santana to confirm insanity had not claimed him. Having her match his look was not as comforting as it should have been, nor was the unanimous decision to silently back away.

That relationship, Kurt thought as he and Santana continued their retreat, is not something I am prepared to properly consider the ramifications of.

He tried to convince himself he hadn’t created a monster.

When he remembered it was Puck’s idea, Kurt felt a tad better about potential calamity, but not much.

Chapter Text

Satisfaction was an obvious guarantee in Puck’s world. There wasn’t much to question about it; he was a kickass dude that took the world in a storm so furious that the timid geeks who couldn’t handle his sheer awesomeness had learned to get out of his way - and also give him what he wanted.

It wasn’t just them though; Puck had a pretty sweet deal with the universe that generally had things working out in his favor. Because he was Puckzilla, and what Puckzilla desired, he acquired, simple as that.

If that little motto had been flagrantly stolen from his girlfriend then whatever, she didn’t care when he took credit for it, which only added to Puck’s modest and completely accurate, point.

Aside from that odd phase with Mike (and Quinn and the baby, and like, Lauren- okay, whatever) Puck lived his life on a happy high of satisfaction. About the important things, of course. Slushie facials weren’t particularly high on his list of desired outcomes, but shirtless makeouts with Mike and Tina afterwards were. And he might not get all the solos in glee club, but he didn’t need that stuff for everyone to know he was a badass, it was obvious. Getting the time to grace them with his talent was enough for Puck, he was a humble guy that way.

Overall, if you took an average, Puck was pretty content with his life.

Which was why when this whole Sebastian thing started to stink up even more overpoweringly rank that should have ever been possible, Puck decided to do away with his ‘Do not engage’ strategy.

That was right, he was going to engage the hell out of this stupidity, and he was going to do it his way.

Like, Puck wasn’t the smartest dude on the planet, but he sure as shit was not the dumbest (at the moment, that right was reserved for Sam, or Finn). There was way more to this mess than Sebastian wanting revenge or Sam needing Dave to go all jealous-face. For maybe a half-hearted effort, sure, Puck would have been willing to believe that, but he wasn’t buying Sebastian’s whole ‘if-I’m-going-to-do-something-I’m-going-to-do-it-so-much-better-than-you-it’s-criminal’ deal. Not that it didn’t add up with his jackass personality- because it totally did, Sebastian was a jackass – but Sebastian never had anything to prove to them before. They were beneath him. And if they were beneath him, then why even bother hanging up his own posters? Or hell, making his own posters? He should be flaunting his wealth and paying other people to do it. He should be arguing over more solos and song selections. He should only be bothering with the fake-prom-date thing whenever Dave was around, but he didn’t, Sebastian committed.

And all of this led to a smell of fish so powerful Puck couldn’t out-lazy it. It was too annoying. It was too busy being ignored by everyone else.

So Puck, damn it all, decided to do some digging.

And unlike Sam and Finn and Kurt and everyone else who seemed to think just straight-up asking people shit was the greatest sin in the universe, Puck was going with the direct approach.

It would be faster.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Sebastian had long since become accustomed to getting exactly what he wanted. It wasn’t that he was overindulged, so much that he had the motivation and charisma (and honestly, the boredom) that made attaining things that had been previously inaccessible, accessible. It was one of his prouder skills, honed with deadly charm and empathy so sincere that not even the most critical reviewer would never dare claim him a liar. Which he was, but they were spared this truth and hence, their own indignities, so Sebastian always saw it as a kind of mutual victory.

There was a sort of hate-love relationship to be had with the more particularly trying obstacles. Usually a little flattery here, a touch of manipulation there, a pinch of outright lying and viola - Sebastian’s goal; whether it be an object, or position, or person, would fall neatly into his hands.

He wasn’t spoiled, he worked for his victories, savored them. Though in truth, the thrill of the chase on occasion, held more appeal than the actual destination. Sebastian was indecent enough to admit he was spiteful and bitter, and loved taking things simply to deprive others of them.

He could take the treasures and hold them just out of reach, taunting, cherishing, before ultimately crumbling them into ruin and chucking them back useless at his enemies’ feet, making them both incompatible with the world.

This was one of Sebastian’s motivations for being the perfect example of a boyfriend for Sam. That and, it would come as no surprise that behind that dull expression was a very well-toned body that Sebastian very much enjoyed having access to. Though they couldn’t get too far without the blond getting all bashful on him, flittering and blushing like some coy virgin at the thought of more intimate encounters (and Sebastian was very much in support of more – ahem – intimate encounters), the teasing was close enough to a chase for Sebastian to find a thrill in it. Testing Sam’s boundaries was a joy in itself, and the very fact that he could possibly trace these unexplored territories before a one David Karofsky made tolerating the blond’s stupid blathering all the worth it.

Though Sebastian was not so lewd as to ever force anything upon Sam that he wasn’t prepared for, gradual coercion was a game he enjoyed. He would not say the attention was unwanted, as Sam’s natural reactions obviously destroyed that myth, merely that perhaps the blond would prefer the delivery by a different hand.

Still, as things stood, Sebastian was doing fairly well for himself.

It was almost domestic, in a way. As close to any kind of relational-commitment as he had ever gotten.

Though one thing, still, brought Sebastian back to an unsatisfying point.

It wasn’t as though he was deeply invested in whom the half-witted Neanderthals that inhabited this school deemed worthy of being their Prom King. If anything, the idea of being voted most appealing by this majority would only be insulting, to say the least. It wasn’t an important victory; it didn’t even gain Sebastian anything in the long run.

And yet, he was in a constant state of coming up second best.

Not an altogether surprising result, considering he had just transferred in. The fact that he was in the running at all proved how hopelessly outclassed all the other candidates appeared to be.

Sebastian had assumed with his posters, his campaigning, his silky-smooth talking, his winning smile, his charisma and stature, that would be the bit that would push him over the limit. It was an obvious deduction. He was better dressed, better poised, intellectually superior to all of those slack-jawed idiots. It was clear they should see him as glamorous and suave and desirable. The openness of his sexuality should not have even mattered at the end of it; his overwhelming presence was enough to make even the most stubbornly homophobic of minds discover his appeal. This victory should not have been a trial.

And yet, even a week in, Sebastian was still losing.

At this point, it had become a simple matter of pride. Putting this much effort into something without yielding the most ideal returns would be unacceptable. Sebastian needed to discover the root of his discomfort, and he would not stop until he realized the secrets to David Karofsky’s success.

He would not play second fiddle to that eyebrow-over-waxing, stupid-vague-grinning, so-deep-in-the-closet-he’s-in-freakin’-Narnia dolt. Sebastian could not yield to such clear inferiority.

Some investigating would need to be done.

Thankfully, Sebastian had never been opposed to getting his hands dirty.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“May I get a drum roll, please?”

“After the amount of time it took to pick out that dress, you can get a standing ovation,” Dave replied with a tired smile, sharing a pained look with Kurt as they patiently waited in ‘anticipation’ for Rachel enter the room.

She had spent the past hour and a half preparing for her pre-prom-trial-run, smoothing out the kinks in her hair style, contemplating lipsticks, nail polish, perfume, and another vast assortment of odds and ends Dave had stopped being able to differentiate but Kurt had enthusiastically criticized, lending his expertise whenever it was called for, and a few times it hadn’t. Dave himself hadn’t entered the warzone that was now Rachel’s bathroom, but Kurt had made enough trips that his claimed seat of Rachel’s desk chair had been repositioned to now be just a few scant feet from the pale pink doorway, should he be called upon.

Dave, for the most part, had planted himself of Rachel’s bed and stayed there, working through the last of his statistics homework, muttering the occasional vague phrases of support, like “You’ve got this” or “It’s the inside that matters”. About fifteen minutes in, he had been glared into submission by both of the room’s fashionistas, and been allowed to carry out his work in peace.

So, win-win, for all involved.

Dave was so glad he wasn’t female. He wouldn’t be able to handle the variety of options or maintenance they had to put up with. He hadn’t had to bother putting in any thought into his prom ensemble. Quinn, in her control-freak way, had already picked out the style of tux, where he’d rent it, the color, and had taken him for measurements. He hadn’t even picked out his own shoes, the Berry’s had taken care of that, insisting that every gentleman, especially one that was going to go so many places like Dave (their words, and if you thought he might have gotten a little teary-eyed Dave had nothing on Rachel, whose proud face could not have beamed brighter), needed a good pair of shoes.

“Just make some kind of noise, please,” Rachel ordered, her pleasant tone of victory replaced with mild exasperation. “This kind of perfection deserves recognition.”

“It better be perfect,” Dave murmured to Kurt as he started putting his books aside. “It only took us five hours to find the damn thing. And that was before shoes.”

“You’re complaining?” Kurt quirked an eyebrow, arms folding across his chest in an unimpressed picture of displeasure. “I’m the one she was constantly texting. My phone was monopolized. I had other ensembles to critique, you know.”

“Yeah,” Dave scoffed, rolling his eyes. “But you weren’t the one that had to carry all the dresses and sit in those uncomfortable chairs with all the other poor saps who-”

“I am not coming out to the sound of your complaining,” Rachel declared, her voice even, but baring that threatening edge that warned they better listen up soon. “I require proper adulation or I swear, I will change hairstyles again, and dinner will be delayed that much longer.”

“Are you threatening us by withholding food?” Kurt asked, sounding genuinely curious. “Because that sounds remarkably effective.”

“Shut up and start clapping,” Dave ordered, already putting his hands together in the efforts to speed this process along.

With a quiet laugh, Kurt joined right in, sharing a quick smile with Dave.

It hadn’t been malicious, he wouldn’t have even minded if they had to wait another hour and a half to eat, but he was hoping-

There was a chorus of giggles from the bathroom, and Dave’s grin widened, knowing he had hit his mark. Rachel was all nerves, even here, in the privacy of her own bedroom. It was surprising, sometimes, that Rachel doubted her beauty (surprising and guilt-inspiring, in its own way, because that wasn’t a concern Rachel should have), but if Dave could help her confidence in that regard, he was more than happy to.

He would have thought, being raised an only child, that he wouldn’t have been any good at this kind of kinship. But with Rachel, after a time it just seemed natural. Like the sister he never had.

If Rachel could ever permit him the privilege of being considered her brother, Dave would be deeply and truly humbled.

Even if she was a little psycho-crazy sometimes.

Hey, they all had faults.

“Ta-daa,” she sang, waltzing into the room in a flutter of pale pink fabric, flowing behind her in an effortless wave exuding glamour.

She looked…stunning, plain and simple. Her dress was just as elegant now as it had been that day she had modeled it in front of the tri-panel mirror, simple in its sophistication and intricate at the same time – a mature silhouette, was what Kurt had called it. Despite the length of her preparations, her hairstyle and makeup were restrained, her brown locks in loose curls trailing over her shoulder, her eye shadow and lip gloss subdued, minimal.

Every detail was adjusted to enhance the beauty she already had, not to mask it or distract it with flashy accessories and overloud materials. She looked…

“Perfect,” Dave said, nodding slowly.

She really did.

This was the Rachel Berry he could see winning Tonys one day, smiling with unrestrained joy as she listed out heartfelt thanks to the director, her parents, to Finn. This was the Rachel Berry who was going to take on the world someday – first stop: NYADA, second stop: everywhere. This was a Rachel Berry who knew no boundaries.

And this was the same Rachel Berry whose face lit up in utter delight at Dave’s declaration, because she honestly hadn’t suspected that to be true, or perhaps - on a more depressing note - even an option.

“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen,” Kurt scoffed, rolling his eyes. “You know you look fabulous, now you’re just fishing for compliments.”

Dave would have warned him off if the other teen hadn’t been smiling as he said it, distributing his critiques with a look of what had to be pride, walking a slow circle around Rachel to get every angle, and nodding in approval.

“It’s good then?” Rachel asked, eyes widening at the possibility.

There was a pause, Kurt making a great show of giving his judgment a lengthy consideration. One hand gripped his chin while the other was propped against his hip, a posture that screamed deep-in-thought as he made his deliberations.

It was all very impressive, and very believable, but Dave knew, just as Kurt did, that it was only for Rachel’s benefit. The teen had made up his mind the moment she had walked out the door, Rachel just wouldn’t believe it if she didn’t think Kurt was somewhat doubtful. It said horrible things about her self-esteem, but that was where they were, and Kurt worked with it like a pro.

Eventually Kurt came to a stop. Rachel studied his posture, tense with the anticipation, literally (as in literally, not figuratively) holding her breath while awaiting his decision.

Kurt played it out perfectly.

The teen shrugged, arms folding against his sides in a graceful picture. “It will do, I suppose.”

His tone was droll, bored almost, but Rachel was squealing and clapping and doing a very impressive celebratory dance in the two-by-two area at the foot of her bed.

“Excellent!” she chirped, clapping her hands together. “Thank you Kurt!”

“And Dave,” the football player mumbled, reaching to reclaim his statistics book now that the judgment had been officially delivered.

“But of course,” Rachel was quick to agree. She was smiling, an undeterred brightness, because she knew he had said it in good nature.

They held onto the victory for a few moments – or at least, Dave did – reveling in the warmth of satisfaction and support, and finally-completed outfits and hairdos that would be sure to wow anyone bestowed with the gift of vision.

It wasn’t a moment that would last, but it was theirs, and Dave held onto it while he could.

“David,” Rachel began as the laughter started to die down. “May I ask you something?”

There was an amount of delicacy to the way she asked it.

Before he had started living with her, Dave would have assumed that the way her eyes were averted elsewhere implied she had bigger things more worthy of her attention, and while that was occasionally true, in this case, with that tone, he knew it was just a front.

She was giving him an out, trying not to make him feel pressured into responding or, if the subject was particularly sensitive, making his ability to answer the easiest thing possible. For him, she knew that meant there would be no expectations.

Except now that Dave had caught onto her little ruse, there was no relaxing. Only a quiet feeling of dread that he had to play off, fighting away the anticipation.

It didn’t help that Kurt had his gaze resolutely fixed to his nails, as though contemplating his manicure right now was the single most important step for him as a human being.

“Sure Rachel,” Dave said, placing his Statistics book back onto the bed and rearranging his papers. This could call for an immediate retreat, and he wanted to be prepared for it. “What do you need?”

From the corner of his eye, he could just see the brunette’s reflection in her vanity mirror. As he arranged his work things into neat little stacks, he monitored the way her bottom lip was caught between her teeth, smearing her lip gloss as it gradually drew forward to escape the trap. It was her thinking face.

It did not bode for good things.

“Dave,” Rachel’s hands were fiddling aimlessly with a carved jewelry box in front of her, flicking the latch open and closed, open and closed. “I know you probably don’t want to talk about it-”

“Great way to start a conversation there, Rachel,” Kurt drawled, frowning down at his fingers as he picked at an imaginary hangnail. “That’s not going to get him all defensive or anything-”

“And I know you’re probably sick of hearing about it,” Rachel blithely continued, talking over Kurt’s criticism with a haughty tilt of her head. “But if you could just- explain to us, please-” her eyes met his in the reflection of the mirror, and her hand stilled against the jewelry box hinge. “Please,” she said again. “We won’t bother you anymore.”

“And before you start protesting,” Kurt said, popping out of his assigned chair and making his way over to Rachel, eye studiously avoiding Dave’s. “Yes, that is a promise we can keep. You give us a straight answer and you are free to go, no more feedback from the rest of the peanut gallery-”

“He means the glee club,” Rachel said helpfully, eyes wide.

“-and your life may resume its usual level of denial and sadness.”

Or,” Rachel said, her smile becoming a little mores strained as she picked up for Kurt. “Reserved and…safe. There’s nothing wrong with either of those.”

Kurt rolled his eyes. “Except for the denial-

“And I appreciate this,” Dave said, because they were going to start talking in circles soon, and the faster they could get this over with, frankly, the better. “But at some point you’re going to have to ask me an actual question.”

Even if he already knew what it was, he wasn’t a mind reader. He couldn’t’ tell exactly what they wanted. He needed a little help here.

For all he knew, they could be referring to some other horribly awkward elephant in the room.

Wouldn’t that be a pleasant surprise?

Kurt turned back towards him with a deliberate and exaggerated slouch, leaning back against the rose pink vanity with one eyebrow quirked, ready for battle.

Rachel took that as her cue and gainfully followed his lead, turning around at a much more subdued, graceful pace, her delicate train flowing behind her in a romantically sheer waterfall.

Instead of launching right into her inquiry, Rachel decided to opt for the strategy she knew best, setting the scene with a little context, building up its importance by establishing a back-story. Even though they already knew it, all three of them, she would take the time to restate the facts, putting them on equal footing as far as she understood things.

“Not too long ago,” she began, slowly, deliberately, but with great weight. “You had been trying so hard to properly woo Sam. To get him to see that he could like you so that you could ask him out. And you gave up so much for that-”

“It wasn’t just that,” Dave insisted, knowing it was rude to interrupt but needing it to be done. “It was the right thing to do.”

“Which is true,” Rachel nodded, not offended by the outburst. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you have feelings for Sam.” She paused, looking off the side and trailing one finger down the worn edge of her vanity, finger trapped in the tiny dip there. “So what I would like to know,” she said, looking back to him, face determined. “Was what, exactly, changed?”

It was poignant, hitting as directly and effectively as she had always envisioned it, how she must have planned it- so carefully, step-by-step, in her mind.

And when Dave stumbled, needed a moment to compose himself under the words he had been expecting, Kurt went in for the kill.

“Did you just chicken out?” the teen asked, ignoring Rachel’s sharp glare as he pressed forward. “Is that what happened? Did you see that you were starting to get too close and backed out before Sam could be the one to hurt you?”

“Kurt-” Rachel tried.

“Was it ever really about Sam?” Kurt asked. “Did you ever really want him, or was it all about the chase? Were you looking for a challenge – that thrill you get, you know – and the moment Sam started reciprocating was the moment the game ended, because it just isn’t fun whenever they want you back, right?”

No,” Dave murmured. “It was never like that. I wouldn’t do that to Sam.”

“You wouldn’t do that?” Kurt asked, and now both eyebrows were raised, complete in incredulity. “But you would do this, as though it were better? What, do you think you know what’s best for Sam? Do you think that you bring him down or vice versa? Do you think that he’s better off with – and Lord forgive me for even suggesting it – Sebastian, of all people? Or-” Kurt’s eyes hardened, narrowing in a ferocity reserved for bigots and criminals in the eyes of fashion. “Do you – despite every evidence to the contrary, honestly believe Sam doesn’t have feelings for you? Or even worse, is incapable, despite his insistence, of ever wanting that?

“He doesn’t want it!”

Dave exploded pure and simple, rocketing to his feet in the need to move, pencils and papers knocked to the ground in careless abandon. “You don’t get it!”

“No,” Kurt snapped, lunging forward. “I do get it Dave. I get it, because I’ve felt it!”

There was a pause, all of them startled into silence. Kurt’s chest heaved, as though he had completed a hundred meter dash, as opposed to imparting in a conversation.

“I’ve felt it Dave,” Kurt repeated, and this time was quieter, though no more composed. There was a shaky lilt to his voice, a quiver of pure emotion. “Back when Blaine was questioning if he was bi, I’ve felt it, and I was mad. Mad that he would doubt – what I felt, and what actually was – his sexuality. I felt like he was copping out, but honestly Dave, I was just jealous. Jealous and a little scared it might be true, and whatever potential thing we might have would be ruined and gone forever because he found a perfect singing soul-mate in Rachel freakin’ Berry!

He paused, wavering with exertion, then cast his eyes aside. “Sorry,” he whispered to Rachel.

The girl nodded. “It’s okay. I’m sorry too.”

“Water under the bridge,” he mumbled.

And then he was back to Dave.

“Dave,” Kurt said. “I know now that I should have never acted that way. If Blaine had questions about his sexuality he had every right to pursue an answer.”

“But Blaine turned out to be gay,” Dave pointed out. “You were right.”

“And Sam turned out to be bi,” Kurt said. There was no questioning about it, only a pure definitive statement. “Sam had questions and he found answers to them.” He looked way, towards the flimsy train of Rachel’s dress. “Perhaps a little too late before he did any damage but-” Kurt looked back to Dave. “-he did figure it out. And you have no right to let your preconceived notions on how you think he should be acting get in the way of that. It’s disrespectful not only to Sam as a human being, but to our entire gender.”

That wasn’t fair. This wasn’t stuff Dave could deal with right now- not with everything else. Not when he had finally worked up to an area in his life where he could actually be okay without Sam being in it, as either a friend or-

Dave had adjusted himself, to what was necessary.

He wished they could just see that.

“Was this a safety thing for you?” Kurt asked suddenly. “Were you only going after the straight guy because you thought he would never be interested? And now that he is-”

Kurt,” Dave said, in a tone that was warning.

The other teen searched his eyes for a moment, then nodded. “Just checking.”

They fell into a – not a comfortable silence, nothing in the near vicinity of composed – but an odd kind of pause, each of them gathering their wits for the next round of verbal combat.

Honestly, Dave was just doing what he could to keep up with the punches. He knew he should be thinking ahead, to try and explain it all, but everything he put together seemed so meaningless and insufficient to ever do the situation proper justice.

But they were staring at him with those matching looks. Those, ‘We both may be smaller than you but we will not hesitate to hogtie your ass should you dare attempt to run out that door’ that meant they weren’t leaving, would not stop prodding, until they were appropriately satisfied.

Dave could always try for the window, but he doubted he would be able to get the screen off before they would make it across the room, and besides, he was probably too big anyway.

And he felt like – in a small way – he owed them this much. Kurt had come a long way from being the snippy little punk Dave kind-of, sort-of had feelings for, and the Rachel Berry – this one, his almost-sister – was a new human being compared to the one that had stared him down in the locker room with those eerily huge doe-eyes of hers, prattling on about gratefulness and taking risks with people she had, honestly, no right to take risks with. Dave still could have been a tool; she hadn’t known it at the time.

But she had trusted Sam. And now they both trusted him, and maybe Dave should think about repaying that in kind at some point.

So he picked up the scattered pieces of his composure, and quickly sorted through the garbled mess that had become his Sam-contemplations, forcing them together into some semblance of cohesion and spitting the words out before he lost his entire nerve.

“You don’t get it,” he said, even if it fixed those unhappy little frowns on their faces, all tight and unpleasant, even then Dave said it, because they needed to know. “This isn’t…I can’t do this. I can’t do this and be in it- I mean,” he laughed, shaking his head at the obvious sound of his uncertainty. “I feel like I’m crazy,” Dave said. “I feel stupid, because Sam- I care about him, a lot, you know. Except more than that- to the point where I feel like a stalker and I wonder if it’s about him at all, but then it has to be, because it’s not Sam the concept or Sam the guy I’m thinking about. It’s just Sam, in his entirety, with all of his quirks and his vices and horrible, dreadful taste in movies.”

“I feel…” and Dave struggled for the right words, hands twisting together in an uncomfortable heat, sweaty and disgusting and disorienting all in one.

“Overwhelmed?” Rachel offered, and just like that Dave was back, nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, overwhelmed,” he said. “Because it shouldn’t be this much. Not now, not in high school, and not with Sam. But I-”

“You really care about him,” Kurt concluded. It wasn’t critical, his tone. It wasn’t really supportive either, but Dave understood that at the moment the other teen was playing the ‘bad’ cop, and Rachel was cornering the market of dreams and feelings.

To that serious face, Dave nodded, his throat dry as he attempted to swallow, anything to get some moisture. “I do,” he said quietly. “I really do. Too much, I think. And Sam-”

“Don’t you dare say he doesn’t care,” Kurt snapped. Dave hadn’t even realized he had been looking away until he was under siege of that furious tone, sharp and lethal, promising the kinds of hells Dave could never begin to understand. “Don’t you dare, David, decide that Sam doesn’t reciprocate those feelings when you know damn well that is not the case.”

“I believe it,” Dave said quietly.

It did not do much to satisfy Kurt’s obvious displeasure, but it was the truth, so Dave went with it. “I have complete faith in Sam, and Sam’s ability to make decisions, and I have for awhile now.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Rachel asked it, she had to be the one, and the way she delicately slid it in there, her tone exuding nothing but support and maybe the tiniest hints of pride.

Suddenly, it was not so difficult to see why Finn was so head over heels for this tiny, mighty, very crazy, person.

The answer was one word that would lead to an explosion, and Dave held onto the silence for just a few seconds longer, wondering if the strained anticipation would be more endurable than what would follow.

“Sebastian,” he said.

“Seriously?” Kurt’s hands were in the air, thrown up in a fit of disbelieving fury. It was a reaction Dave had been expecting, and the other teen didn’t fail to deliver the appropriate amount of disappointed looks, tinged with generous helpings of disgust. “Dave, I can’t believe you’re serious, I can’t. If I did then I would have to commit Seppuku or some other egregious and horribly distasteful crime against myself because you cannot be that stupid.”

“Let me finish,” Dave prompted, his hands loose against his sides.

His pleas fell on deaf ears as the other two were too preoccupied with their own monologues of disbelief and despair and dejection, maybe, if you wanted to complete the de-noun trifecta.

“Think logically Dave-” Rachel was saying, her loose curls bobbing gently as she tilted her head to the side.

“We’re past logic,” Kurt snapped. “You, David Karofsky-” he began, turning his attention back to the football player. “-are a moron.”

“I promise there’s more to this than you think,” Dave said, and this time things seemed to settle down.

At least enough for Kurt, and subsequently Rachel (because if he could get Kurt’s attention Dave could actually have a chance to speak) to quiet down long enough to maybe, sort of listen. For at least a brief moment.

Dave took his opportunity and started explaining himself as quickly as possible before he could be cut off by scoffs and rolled eyes and other untruths resulting from blissful hope and determination.

“They’re good together,” Dave said – and there was Kurt’s scoff, loud and over-exaggerated. “No. You shut up for like, two minutes while I say this.” He wasn’t fond of saying such things when Rachel was wearing such a worried expression, filled to the brim with sympathy truer than any other emotion she knew, but he did it. “You might not see it,” Dave said, swallowing down the sudden lump in his throat. “But I do. They work. Sam – even if he’s faking it – he likes the guy. He’s found the good parts of Sebastian. And Sebastian, in turn, is good to Sam.”

“Because they have a deal,” Kurt snapped. “You realize without that, there would be no reason for Sebastian to keep up appearances, right? He would dump Sam like the fashion trends of yesteryear and not think twice about it. Sebastian doesn’t do meaningful relationships; it’s not in his nature. In fact,” Kurt said, gesturing to Rachel as though suddenly remembering she was there. “I don’t think he’s even capable. The fact that he has managed to hold up the ruse for this long is frankly astounding.”

“It’s because he likes Sam,” Dave said. He had practiced explaining this in his bathroom mirror earlier, practiced and reviewed it until he could say the words without sounding like he was spitting out glass, all sharp edges and broken pieces, coming in incomplete parts.

He said it evenly, without inflection, and the amount of time it had taken him to get to that stage was both another added concern for his level of involvement in a relationship that shouldn’t mean as much as it did, and a burden he barely managed to stand.

But he had done it.

And then Kurt had laughed in his face.

“Sebastian doesn’t like anyone but himself.” The rest of the chuckles died off with a mild hint of hysteria, and a sigh that was more of an expression of distaste than an actual exhale. “Why can’t you see this is a power play? For Sebastian, it’s all a game.”

“Then why would he try so hard?” Dave countered; swallowing down the bile as he finally presented this argument and had been honing it for too many hours of his life, negotiating with a reflection in the mirror that only had tired eyes to spare for him. “There are plenty of ways to achieve some goals that would have been easier. Some would have been more effective, but he chose the ways-” Like hanging up his own posters, coordinating his and Sam’s outfits on a regular basis when they were – honestly – both pretty hot without the effort. “-these ways in specific, because Sam wanted him to.”

“Because Sam was the one he made a deal with,” Kurt pressed. He reminded Dave in the same way he would speak to a particularly thick three-year-old, one that was too stubborn to see that yes, the sky was blue, no amount of wishing would ever make it green or bright yellow.

But Dave had a truth of his own, and he wasn’t going to back down from the conclusions when he knew and believed in them just as strongly as Kurt and Rachel believed in theirs.

“Because Sam matters.” And maybe when Dave said this he betrayed a little more of his feelings, his own confessions, than he did Sebastian’s, but he bulled right through it by focusing on the important parts here, to get on with his life.

He desperately needed to move on with his life.

“Sam matters,” Dave repeated, cutting off the growing protests held on Kurt’s tongue. “Sam matters, and if you really think Sebastian doesn’t have the tiniest bit of fondness for the blond, that there isn’t some kind of attraction that snuck past his defenses when he was too busy trying to play the hotshot asshole, then you really haven’t been paying attention.”

Kurt’s face was something chiseled from marble when he replied, and Rachel wasn’t much better beside him, carved from rock and immovable in the wake of this conclusion.

“I would think,” Kurt began, his tone equal parts icy and dangerous. “That I am slightly more familiar with Sebastian’s behavior.”

“And I think I’m the greater expert on Sam here,” Dave countered, because this was really the point they had been driving towards the whole time. “And you know, just as well as I do, that Sam’s not that great of a liar. Or an actor, not when it comes to faking it.” Dave took a breath, just, a fast thing so they (Kurt) wouldn’t cut in, but enough to give him some reprieve, because he needed it, so badly. “Sam is honest,” he said, meeting Kurt’s hard eyes with an intense glare of his own. “And he might not even realize it-”

“But you think he is all over the Sebastian-situation,” Kurt spat, throwing out the words as though they were poison, vile to the touch. “You think that his affection is just so easily swayed-”

“Well, isn’t it?” Dave countered, overcome with enough justified anger that he failed to realize it was the exact wrong thing to say.

Rachel wrapped an arm around Kurt’s shoulders – to calm him, to hold him back, who could tell – but the other teen didn’t so much as acknowledge her presence, his entire world devoted to glaring at Dave and the unspeakable horrors he had offered unto the world.

“Is that why you’re upset?” Kurt asked, but every inch of his tone suggested this was rhetorical, and Dave should by no means feel obligated to hazard a response. “Because you’re so stupidly into Sam and at the first sign of reciprocation he-” Kurt cut himself off with a vicious twist of his head, jerking his shoulders to escape Rachel’s clutches because he just needed to breath, for a second. Or yell. Or both.

“Of course that would be the case.” Kurt threw his hands up into the air once more, but this time there was an accompanying sound of unintelligible rage. “Only you,” Kurt began, whipping back around to face Dave, hands clenched into uncomfortable fists and gesturing wildly. “Only you would push someone away- because I’m assuming that’s what happened here – and then act all surprised when he resorted to desperation-”

“Moved on,” Dave corrected, because he could say that now, what had happened. “He moved on.”

“Shut up for like, ten seconds before I am forced to punch you,” Kurt ordered.

Still trapped by the vanity, Rachel continued on with her unsure expression, fingers tracing the patterned folds of her gown aimlessly.

“You know what, fine.” Kurt’s declaration brought Dave’s attention back to him with ruthless efficiency. The teen had his arms folded across his chest like an unyielding sentry, exuding annoyance and omniscience with easy skill. “Clearly, you’re not going to believe either of us just because we’re, you know, your friends and people who both love and support you or whatever, but that’s fine, that’s fine.” Kurt’s face was flushed with a kind of exertion that Dave would rather not think about, not when he was spitting fire like this, and looked like he wasn’t stopping anytime soon. “The only way you’re going to believe anything is if you see it with your own two eyes, so we’re just going to have to do that.”

Rachel, who was faster on the pickup than Dave (who was still sort of trapped in an endless loop of contemplating that last string words with comprehension no closer on the distant horizon), spoke first. “Do what?”

“Show him,” Kurt said. “We’re going to show him this epic Sam/Sebastian romance he’s envisioned for what it truly is, and when we’re done, by the way,” he aimed this last part at Dave, his anger giving away to a smugness that better suited him. “You will owe me. For life.”

From Kurt, it was a generous offer.

For Dave, it was just one last barrier he had to break through before he could leave this mess behind him, because he recognized a stubborn-Kurt for what it was, unyielding in its desire.

Though he would hate to watch Sam and Sebastian carry on with their unknowing attraction for an extended period of time, he figured with all the crap he had pulled in the past especially against Sam, this was a penance he could, and would, fulfill.

“How are we doing it?” Rachel asked, continuing a conversation Dave had been zoned out of. Thankfully, her inquiry was aimed towards Kurt.

The other teen didn’t even spare the effort to look thoughtful, because though he would never admit it, this was probably something he had planned since Rachel first disappeared into the bathroom with her garment bag, probably before then, if he was as anal as Blaine led Dave to believe.

“Well, if I recall correctly,” Kurt began making a small show of examining his nails once more. “Mike still has Puck’s spy equipment confiscated. We might as well put that to good use, now shouldn’t we?”

“And the scene?” Rachel prompted, because it was all a show to her with set dressings and…other theatrical things. Dave couldn’t really think of examples right now. He was suddenly overwhelmed by this wave of exhaustion, something that felt like he had been fighting off for weeks.

It was almost done.

“I’ll sort out the details later,” Kurt declared with a vague wave of his wrist. Were Dave to speculate, he supposed Kurt would have already had that part thought out too. The only reason to withhold the plans now was for Dave’s own delicate balance of temperament, and for that, Dave was grateful. He couldn’t really handle listening to this kind of stuff right now. Not when it gave him hope.

“For now,” Kurt was saying, aiming one of his patented charm-settings-to-eleven smiles at Rachel. “I believe you have an ensemble to finish up.”

Which was prompting enough to inspire a glowing smile of Rachel’s own, radiant as she spun in a small circle, modeling all angles of her dress.

“I think we’re mostly finished here,” she chirped. “I just need to add perfume. You’ll never believe it Kurt,” she was saying, going from concerned to overenthusiastic as she recounted their shopping tale. “We actually got bottles of perfume for free, both of us!”

“They wanted us to leave,” Dave explained without prompting, forcing a what-can-you-do smile at Kurt.

Rachel, expectedly, talked right over him. “And it’s actually really good, Kurt. I think I’m going to use it, I just need to remember…” she trailed off, scanning her room with critical eyes. “Dave do you remember where those bags are?”

Like Dave could ever hope to remember, there had been so many places, so many sparkly, eye-blinding things shoved into his face that day the only thing he really remembered was collapsing onto the couch with a pitiful groan, most of the bags whisked away by Rachel and her stupidly expansive reserves of energy.

Most of them, but not the one.

He remembered that now, after Hiram had chided him off the couch to go and pass out in his guest room like a proper gentleman, Dave had been so out of it he had forgotten to deliver those eggshell blue paper bag sot Rachel’s room like he had promised, instead keeping them in his death grip until he managed the triumphant pilgrimage to his bedroom, whereupon he valiantly tried to forget everything that happened that day.

And if he remembered correctly…

“They’re by my bed,” Dave said, packing away his neat piles of homework and books into his backpack. It wasn’t like he was going to get much more work done today anyway. “I’ll go get them real quick.”

Almost done. Rachel could spray a little perfume, take way too long to get changed back into he normal clothes while Dave and Kurt perused the expansive collection of takeout menus from that one particular drawer in the kitchen right next to the refrigerator. Kurt would probably argue for Indian while Dave went on a holy crusade for Chinese, and in the end they would end up with tofu-veggie pizza whenever Rachel descended upon their bickering and sorted things out with a snap of her fingers.

They would end up on the couch in Rachel’s basement, Kurt and Rachel wagering over who would lose their cool in this week’s episode of Project Runway (after Dave glared them into submission away from the topic of NYADA, because if he had to hear another sheet music conversation, he was going to lose it) and Dave could finally fall into the silence he had been desperate for since the conversation had began, the one that bore no judgments either one way or the other in regards to his life. The one that allowed Dave the peace necessary to pull himself together.

It was an optimistic prospect.

He was halfway to the door when he was stopped by a sudden and very undeniable question.

Which, in hindsight, he probably should have been expecting.

Two words. To measly, stupid words.

Your bed?” Kurt echoed.

Chapter Text

“Fun fact,” Kurt began in a tone of voice that suggested fire and brimstone was too gentle a fate for the likes of David Karofsky. “You are a god-damned idiot.”

“Good talk Kurt,” Dave muttered, glancing up towards the ceiling. He thought perhaps the pale cream expanse would give him some kind of reprieve from Kurt’s immovable expression of wounded disdain, but he caught sight of the dainty pink ruffles of Rachel’s canopy bed, bringing him back to the modeling show he had stupidly ruined by opening his dumb, tired mouth.

Rachel, who had dutifully helped Dave through the explanation of his current living conditions, had managed to retrieve the perfume that started it all, change, and still had time to spare for a side-by-side comparison of different jewelry options by the time Kurt started drawing his latest tangent to a close. This one mostly revolved around trust and pitiful communication, and then some more about trust, and then there were pointed dagger eyes that challenged – no, really Dave – for the football player to defend his pitiful actions.

Being an individual that possessed the will to live, Dave had firmly kept his mouth shut, save for the occasional prodding.

It would not do for Kurt, after all, for him to be completely silent.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Though similar to the last five times Kurt had raised such queries, this repletion showed no signs of declining intensity. After the first time, Dave had learned to avert his eyes from the hurt expressions on the other teen’s face if he had any desire to manage the devastating guilt that plagued that section of his life.

It was a box he had shuttered away from the rest of the mess he dwelled in. Not ignored, it couldn’t be- not with the constant reminder of this foreign home and unrelated family – just…regulated. Managed, if you will.

He couldn’t bare all of it. Dave was only human.

“Why Dave?” Kurt pressed. He was in a fine form with his disbelieving entitlement- presenting Dave’s withholding as a grievous error (from concern, from betrayal – but it was so hard to deal with now). “Did you think we wouldn’t understand? I know you wouldn’t have told everyone, but you could have spread the word to more than just Rachel, I mean-” Kurt cut himself off with a dramatic wave of his hand, gesturing to the room at large but focusing directly on Dave. “Were you ever going to tell us?”

It was something Dave had pondered in the infrequent moments he addressed his predicament, and it was never something that had a definitive answer. Maybe at their ten-year reunion. Maybe after they graduated, he could slip it casually into a Skype call. Maybe when he ran into one of the glee-clubbers when he was out on the town with the Berry’s, indulging in one of their bi-monthly dinner-and-a-show ordeals that ended in a coffee house critique session where they analyzed performances and material. Maybe it would have come out at someone’s future wedding, when Dave and Rachel were still just as tight as ever, maybe he would have said something after Nationals, if they had won. Maybe.

The only definitely he had in that mishmash of half-considerations was that it wouldn’t be now.

When the silence had lingered far longer than was acceptable for a thoughtful pause, Kurt turned away, his arms folded across his chest in an iron vice, communicating displeasure and immeasurable strength all in one.

It was easy to forget sometimes, how unbelievably strong Kurt was. He had to be, all things considered, but he never wore it as a burden. It wasn’t a learned skill.

It was simply another part of him, cultivated through his own merits, and called upon far too often than should ever be necessary. Kurt was a better person than Dave would ever be.

Excessive nosiness aside.

“Have you spoken to your mom since then?”

“No.”

Dave answered the question before it had time to uncomfortably linger, poking and prodding away at the soft underbelly of his mental shields.

He had seen her, once or twice, since she had kicked him out. Okay, he couldn’t pretend with the vague disinterest – it had been exactly twice. Exactly two times he had gone to their usual Sunday mass, and exactly twice Dave had sat in the far back of the church, near the isle, where their – his mother’s – usual seat (third row, right side) was just in view.

The problem with a community church was, in fact, the actual community aspect. These were people Dave knew, people and teens he had volunteered with at soup kitchens and perish festivals, people whose hands he shook every morning, whose kids he helped through the haunted house at the Halloween Carnival, keeping the monsters away. These were people who had known his family for the entirety of his life, well-meaning people, kind people, people who tended to notice when a mother and son were suddenly sitting a church’s expanse apart.

After two mornings born with too many concerned faces, Dave had switched to a later mass. One where he could blend in with all the other teens that were dragged along unwillingly, just another face in the crowd.

They hadn’t spoken. As far as he knew, his mother had never even looked at him.

Kurt, whether he was aware of the complications or not- he probably was, because these were the kinds of things Kurt saw when everyone else remained oblivious, the delicacies in relationships – he deftly moved on. “And your father?”

“I’ve called him,” Dave replied. “We’ve talked from time to time, but I don’t think my mother’s told him yet.”

Which implied, very accurately, that Dave hadn’t told him yet, but that was an unnecessary statement. Why would Dave tell him? It didn’t make sense to live under the disappointed gaze of two parental figures when he already had to deal with one. Why not put it off? It wouldn’t change anything in the long run.

Dave wondered if Kurt knew that too. He seemed to know everything else.

“I’m not going to say you should call him,” Kurt said. He was still facing the windows, back to them in a picture of perfectly dramatic seriousness. “That’s your business. But I highly suggest that you do.”

“Okay,” Dave nodded. Even if Kurt wasn’t looking at him, the action felt grounding, like a reflex both expected and accepted in instances like these, and Dave could hold onto the order of it. As one thing he couldn’t do wrong.

Over by the vanity, Rachel pretended not to look on the proceedings with a gaze permeated with sympathy, doing her part to support Dave by giving him the distance he so greatly desired.

Seriously, if he could go back in time and punch his fifth grade self for deciding Rachel was lame, Dave would do it. She deserved better than that.

You’re deflecting, a voice that sounded suspiciously like Quinn, noted.

No shit, Dave noted right back. Or, he supposed, noted again.

It really wouldn’t do to develop split personalities in the middle of his Kurt-enforced therapy session. It would probably send the wrong message.

“But I will ask you,” Kurt began, shifting to face Dave in a definite turn, one hip cocked like a cowboy of the old west, reaching for his holster. “Again – by the way – why didn’t you tell me?”

Which seemed altogether fair and unfair simultaneously.

Dave wasn’t entirely sure how to answer, so he stopped bothering to think about it and went with the first explanation that came to his mind.

Except the only explanations he had were – I didn’t want to bother you – or – There’s nothing you could have done about it – or – I didn’t want you to know – and none of those were ever going to be adequate responses under the weight of Kurt’s judgmental glare.

Kurt saw his deliberation – kind of hard to miss when Dave was the only one he was staring at – and proceeded to do what he did best (besides a mean-but-fair outfit critique and belting out Barbara’s greatest hits).

He needled, filling in for Dave until the other teen was goaded into responding, and even though Dave knew he was doing it-

“Are you ashamed of it?” Kurt asked. “Are you ashamed because everyone else’s parents have been so accepting of their orientation, but admitting yours got you-” kicked out of the house, was what he didn’t say, jerking his head to the side tightly, snapping his mouth shut. “Because that’s not your fault, Dave. It doesn’t reflect on you as a person, that’s all her. You just…” he trailed off, eyes flicking downwards, and shrugged. “Realistically, it had to happen to someone. You just weren’t as lucky as the rest of us.”

And by “us”, Kurt meant him and Blaine and Mike and Puck and Brittany and Santana and Sam, he guessed now (did his parents even know, though? Would he get kicked out too if he went home-?), and it would be a lie, to say Dave wasn’t bitterly jealous that they got to keep what they had. That they had families that didn’t accuse them of not-trying, of not sitting down and considering all possible scenarios when he had done that and they sure as hell hadn’t. Dave knew all the arguments, had them in his back pocket, had scripture and logic prepared for a battle his mother wouldn’t even have with him, and they got to keep their families and friends and Dave had to live on the border of being a house guest and a burden, and how fair was that?

He wanted his mom back. He wanted his dad. He wanted those months of pride whenever Dave had collected himself from that stupidly low point in Principal Figgin’s office, he wanted to pull back all the hate from the tough love argument he and his dad had on the car ride home, Dave complaining he didn’t have his back when all his dad wanted was far him to be okay, and now Dave didn’t even have that.

Because he wasn’t okay. He wasn’t fine. He was a reject among his peers and his family, who fought for things he could never hope to attain, who was trying so hard to do what was right and half the time it felt like all it earned him was heartache and criticism from anyone who even bothered to talk to him anymore.

Hate from his friends, disappointment from his mom, disapproval from Kurt, haughty-knowing of Sebastian, Blaine’s sympathy, Quinn’s intensity, Santana’s cut-the-shit eyebrow quirk of devastating fervor, and Sam’s-

Dave couldn’t do it all. It was like he was the only person who knew what a joke he was, trying to run in and play the big hero to a school that didn’t want it, for a glee club that didn’t get it, and for a Sam-

Who, let’s face it; Dave never should have bothered in the first place.

How was he supposed to stand up to that guy when he couldn’t even get his own mother to look in his direction?

So, maybe Dave was ashamed, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have every reason to be.

He didn’t notice he had his head bowed into the pitiful protection of his hands until he felt the bed dip beside him. There was a scent – that stupidly posh berries-and-flowers concoction Rachel had scored in return for her banishment – and then there were arms around him, his shoulders, his neck, a hand patting his hair.

It took Kurt’s legs brushing up against his knees, the teen before him, then beside him, for Dave to realize that he was crying. Ugly gasps he wanted desperately to hide, to just- find some hole to crawl into and suffer on his lonesome- but the arms refused to leave him. Despite the noise and the pain and potential ruin for overpriced sweaters discovered in the great sale-rack escapade of 2011, they stayed.

For who knew how long, they remained like that, Dave shedding the sorrow of which he could not speak, too numb to counter with anything else.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Okay. So this explained a lot.

Enough, at the very least, for Kurt to curse his extravagant self-involvement over the last couple of weeks, because this was something he should have noticed.

It should have been suspicious that Rachel and Dave had suddenly become carpool buddies, despite living on opposite ends of town and Dave, very clearly, not holding up his end of the carpool as his particular vehicle hadn’t been seen at school in weeks.

Kurt should have realized there was a compounding factor to Dave’s sudden absurdity. It wasn’t his relationship with Sam the other teen was having trouble understanding, it was his relationship with everyone, what, with one of the most important people in his life throwing him out.

That was not to say that Dave was entirely excused for disrespecting Sam’s feelings, but at least now there was an explanation as to how he could become such a determinedly blind imbecile.

There was a chance Kurt should probably stop insulting his seriously grieving friend in his mind, perhaps consider aiming his displeasure at a party that actually deserved it, like Dave’s mom.

Kurt was lucky, he had always known that. He had been terrified of coming out, back in sophomore year, terrified enough that he faked a crush on Rachel and joined the football team in an expression of epic manliness merely to comfort any possible concerns his father faced in regards to his sexuality. He might as well have worn a sign that screamed “Straight guy here. Seriously. No homo”, he had been so pathetically consumed.

But Kurt had lucked out. His father loved him for him, and had no preconceptions as to what his behavior should be. Blaine – though his father did not particularly understand – his parents supported him. Mike, from what Kurt understood, had thoughtful respect, so long as his affections were true (which was as sickeningly noble as it was heartwarming in its romanticism). As far as Kurt knew, Puck’s mother was perpetually unaware of his relationships, in a constant state of neglectful apathy, where as Santana had nothing but love and support. And Brittany, of course, was Brittany. Nothing more really needed to be said.

But they were all very fortunate exceptions to the rule in Ohio. It was unrealistic for Kurt to ever assume Dave could be similarly blessed.

“You need to tell him.”

The tears had died down some time ago. Now, Dave stood hunched above Rachel’s bathroom sink, splashing water on his face in an attempt to quell the reddened heat of tears.

Kurt was honestly surprised Dave had made it this long without crying. And this had to have been his first time, there was no way that thing – that storm Kurt and Rachel had held onto by the tips of their fingernails – was just one of many tear-sessions. That had been a dam bursting, a train derailing from the tracks in a spectacularly horrible explosion, racking up the damages that Dave couldn’t speak of.

Against the eggshell white trim, Kurt and Rachel stood flanking the doorway, watching the transaction. Rachel, for once, was keeping her support mostly nonverbal, which was either a blessing or something she would make up for later. Kurt couldn’t read too much into it now, he simply took the opportunity while it was allowed to him.

By the sink, Dave froze, one hand bunched in a salmon-colored hand towel, mid-dab to his face.

“Excuse me?” he said. He sounded half-dead, and maybe Kurt should feel bad about that. A kinder person would have taken that as an obvious cue that Dave had already been through hell that day, and that forcing any more would have been a cruelty.

Alas, Kurt was a man who got things done. Who played the devil to raise an angel.

For these reasons, Kurt repeated himself, even under Rachel’s sour looks. “You should tell Sam. I know you can’t tell the entire glee club,” - being that somehow a select few remained oblivious to Dave’s sexuality, though how, Kurt was unsure – “But your friends-”

“No Kurt.” Dave shook his head, hiding his face once more in the terry cloth of pink hand towel.

Kurt did him a favor and refrained from scoffing. That did not, however, bar him from responding altogether, but if you thought about it, he was being pretty generous here. For him.

Kurt took a deep breath. “It doesn’t excuse you-”

No, Kurt.”

“Well, why not?” Aside from the obvious shame?

Okay, that in itself was pretty unpleasant but-

“We all care about you Dave,” Kurt insisted, taking a step forward into the elegantly tiled bathroom. “And if you are hurting I can honestly say that we want to help, in whatever way we can.”

“No Kurt, just-” Dave cut himself off with a shake of his head. The hair framing his face was damp; clinging to his cheeks and forehead and suddenly between the weary eyes and slumped posture Kurt could see just how heavily the day’s ordeal had weighed upon.

He was beginning to see the reason behind Rachel’s admittedly fierce glaring.

“Just-” Dave tried again, rubbing at the wet hair with his borrowed towel. “Focus on your see-it-to-believe-it scheme, or something.”

It was tired, when he said it, going for strained with added hints of neutrality. But Kurt, he was an expert at subtleties (sometimes, okay), and he could catch the quiet, almost unheard implication of begging. A pleading to push this for another day.

The see-it-to-believe-it-plan, hmm?

Okay, Kurt could work on that instead. He even had a new angle, now.

“Alright Dave,” Kurt allowed after a pause where the other teen studiously discovered new places to dry off with his towel and Rachel kept scowling at Kurt’s reflection. “I believe dinner is past-due anyway.”

And so help him, if Kurt wanted