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Dave manages to go a week without calling Blaine. He keeps telling himself he can do this year on his own, the way he's pretty much done every year of high school: no connections, no true friends, no one who knows who he really is.

Just nine more months in solitary – that's all he has to do, and every day brings him closer to his release date.

But today, he suddenly feels like he's starting to drown, and he’s going to go under forever if no one throws him a life preserver soon. He’s not sure what pushed him over the edge. There’ve been so many this week, but nothing more than usual: "fag" got thrown around the locker room a lot this afternoon; and there was way too much talk of wet pussy at lunch; and this weekend on his way to a game in Cleveland, a billboard blasted at him, "Homosexuality is sin . . . but Christ can set you free  – John 8:36.” (He surreptitiously looked the verse up on his phone and found it said nothing about homosexuality at all.)

It could be any of those things. Or it could have been the impromptu game of smear the queer at the end of football practice on Friday, which would have actually been fun if the game were called something else and the guys hadn't kept hollering "Ya goddamn queer!"  so cheerfully after anyone who had the ball.

It could be the way that Jürgen from German class smiles at him sometimes, how his eyes seem to flicker over Dave's chest and arms and knees when they're practicing conversation, and Dave can't tell if the guy just does it as a nervous tic when he's having trouble finding words or if he's checking Dave out – but it doesn’t even matter because there’s no way that Dave can ever ask because, shit, he just needs to get through one more year of high school without anyone figuring out that he’s queer as a football bat.

Whatever it is, when he gets home from school on Friday and his dad says, "How'd it go?" and Dave answers "Fine," he feels acutely not fine and immediately goes to his room, shutting the door behind him with the excuse that he has to study.

He plugs his mp3 player in and sets it to Philip Glass' Metamorphosis I-V, lies back on his bed, and tries to think of a place where life isn't a constant assault. The first thing that comes to mind is the freedom of the football field, where there are no thoughts but now and the next play, how everything falls quiet but the pounding in his ears and the planning in his head. He thinks of calculus and imaginary numbers, getting lost in a problem until he finds his way out. He thinks of Scandals, of anonymous camaraderie, of drinking beer and playing pool and not being afraid of anyone knowing that he's gay – especially because they don't know his last name. Hell, they don’t know anything about him at all.

Finally, he remembers Blaine hugging him a week ago with unbridled and frightening affection. And that turns out to be his lifeline. It gets him floating back on the surface, gives him air to breathe.

But that's all it gets him. He's still bobbing aimlessly on the water, wishing to be pulled to land so he can stand and run and laugh the way humans were meant to – not stuck there, kicking uselessly against the current.

So he texts Blaine. It's not about Kurt – it really isn't, even though he's been an undercurrent (and sometimes a tidal wave) in Dave's mind for so long. It's about needing a friend, or something close to it. It's about needing a life that's worth living, now.

Were you serious about needing a tutor? Because they don't give me enough math to do at school. He thumbs the message into his phone and hits send.

* * *

Blaine is following Kurt's instructions to chop, not crush, the garlic cloves for the puttanesca sauce, when his phone buzzes with the incoming text. He puts the knife down and checks his phone. "Oh, hey, it's Dave. I almost forgot I gave him my number."

"You weren't that drunk, were you?" Kurt doesn't look up from the stream of olive oil he's pouring into the pan.

"No, I guess not. It's just – with the play this week and with you," Blaine's voice drops meaningfully, eliciting a coy turn of the head and a bright blush from Kurt, "I wasn't thinking about it. I could have actually used his help studying for my geometry test today. I don't think I did that well on it."

"So what does he have to say?"

"That they don't give him enough math to do at school."

Kurt swirls the olive oil around the pan and chuckles to himself. "You know, I had no idea how much of a nerd he was until school was almost over last year. Sounds like you have a tutor."

Blaine starts on his final garlic clove. "Kurt – was that even okay that I gave Karofsky my phone number? I don't have to be friends with him."

Kurt turns from the stove to plant a kiss on Blaine's cheek. "Yes, you do," he says in a giddy sing-song. "You have to be friends with everybody."

Blaine isn't sure if the teasing is just fun, or if it's covering up something darker. He looks up from the cutting board. He needs to know for sure. "I'm serious, Kurt."

Kurt tones his smile down a notch, but it doesn't go completely away. He cups Blaine's jaw in his hand and looks into him. "I'm serious, too. It's absolutely fine."

"Are you sure? Because I like to like people – you know that – but if you want me to hate him, I can try." That was probably too earnest and possibly bordering on pathetic, but Blaine doesn't care. He would do anything for Kurt, because Kurt would never ask him to do anything that was wrong.

"Yes, I'm sure. And please, don't hate him."

Blaine presses his cheek into Kurt's palm and closes his eyes. "I used to be so angry at him for what he put you through. But at the same time it was all mixed up with feeling sorry for him. And the feeling sorry for him – I don’t know. I guess it usually wins out. I feel bad about that sometimes."

"Don't." Kurt leans back against the counter and reaches for Blaine’s hand. "It's how I've felt, too. But the bad stuff with Dave – it's in the past. And it's in the past because after I came back to McKinley, he honestly tried as hard as he could to leave it there. Maybe he didn't do everything I wanted, but I think it was more than he thought he could do, and not just the Bully Whips and the PFLAG meetings. I mean, I saw some of the shit he had to put up with after prom from his 'friends.'" Kurt puts airquotes around the word. "All he had to do to get their respect back was talk crap about me and ‘P-FAG,’ but he never did. He even tried dragging Azimio to a couple meetings. I mean – of course it didn't work, but he tried. I'm proud of him for that."

Kurt lets go of Blaine’s hand to bring the cutting board to the stove, tipping it over a pan and scraping the bits of garlic in. There's a light sizzle and hiss when the garlic hits the heated oil, and the heady scent of garlic quickly fills the room.

"God. You're just – " Blaine just stares at Kurt, even though he should probably be draining the can of tomatoes right now.

"What?" Kurt looks up, flushes a little at Blaine's gaze, then turns his face back toward the pan as he drops the anchovies into the oil.

"Your capacity for forgiveness astonishes me." Blaine wants so badly to kiss Kurt, but thinks better of touching his boyfriend just inches away from hot oil and an open flame. So he grabs the can of tomatoes instead, peeling it open and draining it over the sink. "Not just this. But Rachel, too. She ran against you for president and tried to steal your boyfriend – "

Kurt chuckles, looks up long enough to roll his flawless green eyes. (Well, they're green at the moment; later they'll be blue, or gray, or all three, the way the color of a pond changes with the sunlight.) "You weren't my boyfriend at the time."

Blaine puts the can down, turns to the island to measure out the capers and olives into a small bowl. "I should have been, though. I mean, when I kissed her, and you were right there, all I could smell was you. And you've forgiven me for that, too."

"I know I acted like it was a mortal sin, but there was never anything to forgive. That was just me being scared of losing you." Kurt sighs. "Anyway, in general, with Rachel and Dave – some people are worth forgiving. It's kind of selfish, actually."

"How so?"

"I get more out of being friends with them than being enemies." Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand. "I saw little glimpses of Dave last spring, what he might really be like under all the fear, and that person is … interesting and smart and kind of a big dork. Did you know that until he was in eighth grade, his idea of the perfect birthday party was to go with a couple of friends to the planetarium in Bowling Green?"

"That's adorable."

Kurt gestures to the tomatoes and capers and olives. "Would you mind pouring them in?"

"My pleasure." Blaine does, then just watches Kurt stir for a while, awed at the fluency of his movements, the confident way he slices the spoon through the sauce and stirs from the bottom to keep everything from burning. "It sounds like Dave could use real friends," Blaine says after a minute. "I could try to be that for him, if it's okay with you."

Kurt smiles in that way that makes Blaine's chest feel light and giddy and overwhelmed all at the same time. "You're wonderful, you know that?"

Blaine looks down and shakes his head.

"Hey." Kurt rubs his arm.

Blaine looks back up. Kurt's brows are furrowed in worry, but his face is patient – centering, calming. "No one ever told me that before you," Blaine says. "I mean, maybe they said I was a wonderful singer or dancer or student. But you're the first person who's ever said that I am."

"You are. That's why I love you." Kurt kisses Blaine's forehead. "So much."

Blaine kisses Kurt on the cheek, and he hopes that brief, flutter-soft joining of skin is enough to let Kurt know that he's starting to believe.

* * *

"Tell me about something you think is beautiful." Blaine drops his pencil to the counter and closes his geometry book with a decisive thud.

It's the second time Dave's been over to help Blaine with his geometry homework, and it's going okay, although Dave doesn't really know how to solve Blaine's fundamental problem, which is that he doesn't see how triangles and circles, squares and ellipses and numbers – they're all part of the same thing.

Dave spent the first part of the afternoon trying to get Blaine to make the connections. It was kind of like watching a very drunk person trying to touch their index fingers together and failing to, again and again.

So Dave stepped away from the bigger picture and honed in on the smaller details – the ones that would get Blaine from a to d in the proofs he's supposed to solve tonight – and let Blaine go at it while he turned to his German, which made about as little sense to Dave as geometry did to Blaine.

"Tell me something that you think is beautiful," Blaine repeats, hopping off his stool and heading toward the fridge. "I need a break. You look like you need a break, too."

"Is this some kind of get-to-know you question?"

Blaine rolls his eyes – he looks so much like Kurt when he does it, and it must be nice (better than nice, really) to be so close to Kurt that his gestures work their way into your body and become your own – and plunks a can of soda in front of Dave on the kitchen bar. "Mountain Dew, right?"

"Always," Dave nods. "How'd you know?"

"I didn't. But it's what you asked for last time you were over. I felt bad we didn't have any." Blaine pops the top off of his own can of Coke Zero and takes a sip. He doesn't sit down, just stands there with one hand on the counter. "So, tell me about something beautiful."

Dave rubs his eyes. "Not German. That's for sure."

"I don't know. I watched Summer Storm. I thought the way they talked was pretty sexy."

"Maybe." Dave opens his own can and takes a sip. "But you asked about something beautiful."

"Okay. So tell me about something beautiful."

‘Your boyfriend’ is probably not an appropriate answer. So Dave considers. Snow is nice. Snow on Kurt's eyelashes would be – No. Just no.

"It's not a test," Blaine says, leaning forward a little. "Just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind."

Dave glances down at the cover of Blaine's math book and it comes to him. "Euler's equation," he says.

"Euler's equation?"

"Yeah, Euler's equation. It's a theorem."

"Theorems can be beautiful?"

"If you don't believe that, you'll never get much better at geometry."

Blaine cocks his head. "Okay. Show me."

Dave pulls a piece of paper from his notebook and writes, with Blaine leaning over his shoulder:

            e+ 1 = 0

"Why is that beautiful?" Blaine says.

"First, because it's true," Dave says.

"That's a good reason." Blaine smiles brightly before a shadow crosses his face. "But not everything that’s true is beautiful. Like, it’s true that I saw a dead skunk by the side of the road today. And it’s dead because whoever hit it couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to what was on the road in front of them. That’s not beautiful."

Dave turns to face him. "I didn't think you were so dark."

Blaine shrugs. "I get down about things sometimes. People can be awful to each other."

Dave's about to say that skunks aren't people, but maybe to Blaine, they are. And he agrees that they shouldn't be run over and left on the side of the road like garbage.

Except that Dave used to throw people into the dumpster like garbage. Not as often as Puck, and never Kurt – but still. What does that say about him?

"It's a different kind of truth," Dave says, half to himself and half to Blaine. "Euler's equation, I mean. It's an eternal truth."

"Like 'God is love'?"

"Truer than that. Because it can be proven. And it explains the relationship between the imaginary number and the number one."

"I think you're getting a little ahead of me."

"Okay, skip that. There's other things that are beautiful about it. It's got the three basic operations of arithmetic. You have addition here –" (Dave points to the plus sign) "– and an exponent here –" (he points to the ) "– and also there's multiplication, where i gets multiplied by pi."

"What about subtraction?" Blaine says.

"Addition and subtraction are the same thing."

Blaine gives Dave what must be his ‘don't bullshit me’ look.

"No, really," Dave says. "Subtraction is just adding a negative number instead of a positive one."

"That sounds like semantics," Blaine says.

Dave doesn't know what semantics means, so he just shrugs.

"Okay, what else is beautiful about it?"

"Well, the most beautiful thing about it, besides what it does, is that all the numbers in it are beautiful."

Blaine lets out a laugh-sigh of confusion, or maybe surprise. "How can a number be beautiful? I mean, I've always kind of liked the way that seven looks, but – "

Dave smiles back. "It's not about how they look, it's about what they do. Pi is the key to understanding circles and spheres and the way the universe is expanding and the way that atomic particles interact. I mean, without it, we wouldn't be able to build cars or trains, which means we wouldn't have grocery stores, because how would the food get there, and your house would be a shed and we'd be crapping in holes in the ground. Every day would be a struggle to just survive."

"Huh." Blaine's eyes brighten. "I never really thought about numbers that way. I mean, as something that my life depends on."

Dave moves on to the one and zero in the equation, and how he loves these numbers because they can be combined with any other number without changing its fundamental nature. “Take a seven and add a zero to it or multiply it by one, and it's still seven.”

"Doesn't that mean they’re kind of ineffective?"

"No," Dave says. "Think of it more like they're letting the other numbers be themselves. They aren't trying to change them into something they’re not. Like a four: You add four to seven and you get 11, or you multiply them and they’re 28. You can't see seven anymore in there, and you can't see four. They just – disappear."

"So zero and one are like the friends who help you be yourself, instead of forcing you to be something you're not?"

Dave hears the words that Blaine doesn't say. Like Kurt, you mean? Not like all the assholes you've been wasting your life with because they make you feel like you have to be straight and a complete douchebag?

"I guess." Dave takes another sip of his Mountain Dew. "Except – well, you can only go so far. They're just numbers."

It's a lie. Numbers have never been just anything. They're one of the few things that help Dave make sense of the world.

Blaine rubs Dave's shoulder in a familiar way that unsettles Dave at the same time as it comforts him. Dave's not used to being touched with that kind of affection. "Nothing is just anything," Blaine says. "Especially not when you love it."

Dave gulps from his Mountain Dew can. He’s already said too much. Showing that you care about something is always a dangerous situation to get into. It makes him feel vulnerable and splayed open like the rat he and Azimio dissected last year in biology. Azimio kept laughing at the thing – from the expression on its face to the size of its testicles, and when they were done he switched a lung with the stomach and the heart with the bladder, chuckling through it all – and Dave just sat there with his tough-guy grimace, hoping no one could tell that he gave a shit. (The worst thing is that Azimio isn't evil. He loves his family, is wrapped around the pinky fingers of his little sisters, dotes on his dog like a favorite nephew. The worst thing is that Azimio is all those things, and he still thought it was funny to violate a dead rat.)

Dave sips on his can while trying to figure out how to not say anything else that will make him feel exposed.

"Okay, my turn to tell you what I think is beautiful." Blaine settles back down onto the stool next to Dave and points to Euler's equation. "I think that is beautiful."

"That's cheating. You'd never even seen it until I wrote it down a few minutes ago. And I still haven't explained what it means."

"But I don't think it's beautiful for the same reasons you do."

Oh, lord. Blaine's probably going to say he loves it for the squiggle at the top of pi and because e is the first letter of eternity. Ugh.

But that's not what Blaine says. "I think it's beautiful because, even though I don't understand it, I feel like it's helped me understand you better. You're a poetic soul under that pragmatic exterior, David."

Ha. The only reason Dave sounds poetic when he's talking about math is because math is beautiful, not because of any poetry written on the interior of his "soul" – if he even has one. But Dave doesn't say, If that's what you think, you don't understand me at all. Because, as barren as Dave's soul is, it still feels good that Blaine is trying.

So instead, Dave says, "Maybe."

Blaine pats his shoulder again. "You'll see it someday." He turns back to his geometry textbook and opens it to the proof that was giving him trouble. "Whenever I open this book from now on, I'm just going to call it 'working on poetry.'"

* * *

The day before Thanksgiving, Kurt and Blaine are sprawled on Kurt's bed in a state of post-orgasmic bliss.

They've been in this state a lot lately, because – well, Kurt's dad was definitely right – since they’ve started, they haven’t wanted to stop. It kind of makes Kurt glad they waited eight long and torturous months in which they learned to talk and kiss and talk and support each other and talk and just be in love – because learning to do all that at the exact same time that you're trying to get each other off at every conceivable moment – well, Kurt imagines that would have been difficult.

"You're the best." Blaine nuzzles his cheek and Kurt can feel the sweat at the tip of Blaine's nose, sexy and intimate.

"Huh." Kurt turns to look into Blaine's eyes, which have darkened from amber to maple syrup. "And I thought I was the only one who's ever done that to you. You really need to be more forthcoming about your outside sexual experiences, Blaine."

"I don't have to have been with anyone else to know that you're the best." He tweaks Kurt's nipple, which leads to a cackle of protest.

"Do that again and I'll get so hard we'll have to do it all over."

"That sounds more like a promise than a threat," Blaine says, but he kisses the tweaked nipple in penitence.

"Seriously, we should probably shower."

Blaine kisses Kurt's other nipple. "Or we could doze off, and then do it again."

"Or we could shower, and then do it again."

Blaine kisses Kurt's navel. "Or we could do it again in the shower."

"Oh, I like that idea. Especially since Finn might get home soon. It would, you know, white out some of the noise."

"I don't know. You kind of make some pretty loud noises."

Kurt pinches Blaine's shoulder. "It's kind of hard not to with what you do to me."

"So the feeling is mutual, huh?"

"Yes, Blaine. You're the best –" he smirks "– I've ever had."

If a person who was already lying down could be tackled, well, what Blaine does to Kurt after he says that is pretty much a tackle. At least, a love-tackle. "Take it back," he growls, biting Kurt's earlobe to show he means business.

Kurt melts into giggles. "You want me to take back that you're the best I've ever had? That only leaves my hands, Blaine."

"Well, your hands do pretty awesome things to me." He makes his face stern. "But you know what I meant. The qualifier. Take back the qualifier."

"Yes, Blaine." Kurt sighs like a chastened schoolboy before taking Blaine's face in his hands, aligning their eyes. Blaine's irises, Kurt thinks, are like brown glass shot through with sunlight.

No, that's not quite right. Brown glass shot through with sunlight is something like Blaine's eyes, but it's not as beautiful and it doesn't make him feel this way deep inside his chest, like everything is tightening and loosening at the same time.

"Yes, Blaine," Kurt says again, but this time it's heady and electric. "You are the best. For me. I can't imagine any better. Seriously, if you were any better, I don't know how my heart could take it."

Blaine pushes his face down past the light restraint of Kurt's hands to kiss him, long and hard and toothy-tongue desperate. Kurt's breath catches and his nipples tingle and his heart does a little pirouette that turns into a grand jeté.

Blaine kisses down his cheek to his ear as he rolls off of Kurt, wrapping himself around his side. "I love being in love with you," Blaine says. "And not just because it means I get to have the best sex in the world."

"Which you say from your vast reservoirs of experience."

"I may not know from experience, but I know for a fact. If it got any better than this, people's heads would explode from having sex. There would be a rash of head explosions and the CDC would have to investigate and either tell people to stop having sex altogether – "

"I had a sex ed class like that once."

" – or they'd have to pour billions of dollars into figuring out how to make sex with these sexual überperformers less pleasurable."

"Funded by the manufacturers of genital numbing cream, no doubt."

"Oh, my penis could be totally numb and I could still come from everything you do." The expression on Blaine's face is ridiculously earnest, as if he has given the scenario a lot of thought. It's ridiculous, yes; it's also so endearing that Kurt's heart does a saut de basque.

"Huh." Kurt looks at the ceiling, pretending to ponder. "Intriguing. But let's not try that just yet. We should get to our shower."

"Mmmmmm. Yes."

The shower in Kurt’s bathroom takes much longer than they intend. It's so easy to get lost in new things, in the look of each other's skin under different light, in the way the water alters the textures and tastes. They're surprised to find that the slipperiness of the water, while delightful in some ways – wow that really cuts down on friction – is frustrating in others – oh, it really cuts down on friction. They spend a lot of time learning to acclimate, to alter their plans and their methods, and it takes some creativity but they apply their smarts to it and, by George, they figure it out until soon everything is whisper-desperate oh, yes, god, please, yes, you make me so, oh god, make me, make me – ohfuckyesfuckyesfuckyesoh, you oh god you oh you






under water that's dropped to a temperature that's somewhere between tepid and honestly cold.

They learn that the slow, soft, desperate kisses after they come don't taste salty in here, but are fresh and strange and a little metallic. They learn that keeping their mouths in a clinging state takes a lot more effort when there's water everywhere, trying to seduce their lips into a noncommittal glide. They need to be more conscientious about drinking each other in, pulling at lips and tongue with more forceful suction, clamping their teeth down on tender muscle just a bit harder.

By the time they're halfway through the actual cleaning part of the shower, the water is downright brisk. They rub each other's arms vigorously to stay warm, and for the first time since he began bathing himself, Kurt actually skips the conditioner.

They are shaking when they step out – two-thirds from exhaustion, a third from cold – and collapse onto the bath mat, wrapping themselves in a large towel and pulling it tightly in various arrangements until they are dry and their shaking has slowed to a tremble and they make the regrettable but necessary decision to don clothing. Kurt slips his clothing on more slowly than necessary, with a drawn-out drag over the biceps and ass, a seductive tug that accentuates the strength of his shoulder blades. He can feel Blaine watching him, and it makes every movement feel like foreplay for the next time.

Back in Kurt’s room, they start on their homework, going for a full 17 minutes before they get distracted by kissing.

Blaine's phone lets out a loud buzz from its perch on the nightstand. "I should probably check that,” he says, “It could be my mom."

"Ask her if you can stay for dinner?"

"Yeah, that should be okay. I think both my parents are working late tonight. They always do before holidays."

Kurt frowns, but Blaine's too busy looking at his screen to see it.

"Huh," Blaine says, sounding a little surprised. "It's actually from Dave. They're showing the Buckeyes versus University of Michigan at Scandals on Saturday. Ugh."

"What?" Kurt says.

"Well, I was kind of hoping to spend as much of my weekend as I could with you. But I also have this overwhelming desire to watch football in a gay bar. It would be so – I don’t know. Like a blending of all my worlds.” He looks at Kurt with his please-give-me-a-puppy-for-Christmas expression. “Especially if you were there with me.”

"I don't know. My dad probably wants you here on Saturday so he can drag you into watching the game with him and I can spend all day in the kitchen making you guys crudites." He smiles mischievously.

"Is that a 'yes' or a 'no'?"

"Do you like spending time with him?"

"With Dave, you mean?” Blaine pauses and looks down at the screen thoughtfully. “Yeah, I think I do."

Kurt squeezes Blaine’s hand. "Okay, then. Let's go."