Kurt Hummel was not having a good day.
He braced his hands against his locker and took in a very, very deep breath.
He told himself he wasn’t going to rise to it.
After all, it was just high school and it would be over in just under two years.
It had been no secret that Kurt was gay, even though he hadn’t formally come out of the closet. His friends often joked that he came out of the closet when he came out of the womb, but Kurt hadn’t appreciated that.
Kurt didn’t appreciate a lot of jokes on at his behest, but he put up with them. Because he knew that he couldn’t change them. Well, he could, but he risked exposure, which was something he wanted to keep on the down low.
It was a complicated situation to explain, which was why Kurt didn’t.
But one stupid Glee assignment was going to change it all. Maybe for the good, maybe for the bad, he didn’t know.
He heard the raucous laughter of the jocks walking away from him and rolled his eyes with a sigh. They never changed. To be fair to them, neither did he.
He continued to play their games, mostly because he couldn’t be bothered rewriting the rules. But a rewrite was necessary. Kurt was adamant not to incite it himself, for reasons most wouldn’t understand. Why would he endure this torment if he didn’t have to?
The Glee Club always assembled quickly, knowing that their rehearsal time was sacred, that they didn’t have much of it. They had to allot the necessary time for Rachel to have her tantrum about whatever shenanigan was happening that week between the members. Despite what people thought about Kurt being a gossip, he was usually far removed from Glee’s drama. He had his fair share of drama with Finn last year and was pretty involved in hiding Quinn’s pregnancy details from Rachel. But aside from that, he was pretty calm in his interpersonal relationships.
That was all about to change when Mr. Schuester uttered a few simple words.
“Alright, guys! Hope you’re all having a fantastic day and ready to get down to rehearsal! Sectionals is coming up fast and we haven’t chosen our songs yet. Now, the reason we did so well at last year’s competitions is because we were showing the judges and the audiences who we were. Who we are. And not just ‘we’re a Glee Club full of friends in high school’, everyone was showing their true selves.”
Kurt said nothing.
“So, your assignment for this week is come up with either a solo or a duet that reflects your truest self. I know we did something similar to this last year, but this has to mean something to you. Puck used his song to try and woo Mercedes, which clearly lasted a while.”
Puck and Mercedes, who were on opposite sides of the room and hadn’t even spoken to her each other since that fling, blushed deeply.
“Only Kurt used his assignment to say something about himself, the rest of you talked about your relationships. They are an important part of your lives, but they’re not a big part of your person. I want you all to sing a song that means something to you, something that reveals something about yourself that maybe even your best friend doesn’t know.”
Mercedes frowned, giving Kurt a cautious side-eye.
“So, anytime this week, I want you to come up here and reintroduce yourself to the rest of the club. The more meaningful the song choice, the better. I want you take the rest of the session to brainstorm by yourselves. Look through your music libraries, phones, iPods and try to find something that reflects the most inner version of yourself. And no, Rachel, you can’t sing Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
Rachel huffed and crossed her arms tightly as Mr. Schuester left them to disperse.
“What do you think you’re going to sing, Kurt? You technically already did this assignment last year,” Mercedes pointed out somewhat unhelpfully.
Kurt made a face. “There’s more to me than just Rose’s Turn, Mercedes. I have a lot of different layers.”
Santana smirked, overhearing their conversation. “And that’s just your ridiculous outfit.”
Kurt turned to her, vicious smirk in place. It still felt unnatural, even though he had perfected the art of forming it. “At least I can keep my clothes on around janitor’s closets. Just the mere sight of one and your skirt just falls off.”
Santana glowered at him. “Like anyone would have the time to even undress you, Hummel. You’re not built for easy access.”
“And thank God for that. Otherwise I might end up like you.”
Kurt put a stop to the bickering by shrugging and placing his headphones in his ears.
It wasn’t malicious, really, that was just his and Santana’s primary method of communication. They traded barbs and verbally sparred with each other, because only Quinn could really keep up with either of them and she was making an effort to be nice. So when either of them needed to sharpen their wits, they attacked the other. It was nice, truth be told, but it did often rub Kurt the wrong way with some of the comments she made.
They were usually about his voice, his outfits, his status of being a walking McQueen-clad stereotype. Kurt wanted to rebut with the truth, always, but something stopped him.
He decided to hit shuffle on his ‘Personal Songs’ private playlist on Spotify, skipping through some until he found one that he wanted to sing.
Defying Gravity came on and Kurt perked up for a second. It would be perfect, given what happened the last time he had sung it publically. It would give him the chance to show his peers that he could sing it and that he was better than Rachel. He knew that he had the potential to really nail it this time.
But that wasn’t what he really wanted to say with his performance. A message to everyone about how he could overcome adversity and achieve bigger and better things and leave everyone behind? That was so sophomore Kurt. Junior Kurt wanted to be honest with everyone and himself.
So that was what he would do.
One performance that would really show them who he was, not just the person it was easier for him to be. That wasn’t fair to anybody. He was presenting himself to the world as something other than who he was.
He pressed the ‘skip’ button and smiled as the beat of the next song kicked in. As he let the lyrics wash over him, he nodded to himself. Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
Kurt stood up abruptly.
“Mr. Schuester, I need to go.”
“Is there a sale at the mall?” Tina wondered with a tilted head. She shared a look with Mercedes, who shrugged.
“Is there someone waiting for you at a glory hole?” Puck chimed in crudely.
“No, I got one,” Santana beamed. “Is there Liberace impersonation contest at Scandals you need to get to?” She high-fived herself and sat proudly.
Kurt sighed. “No to all of those things.” He turned to Mr. Schuester. “I’ve chosen my song and I’d like to leave early and start preparing the arrangement. If that’s okay with you, Mr. Schuester.”
Mr. Schuester nodded. “That’s fine with me, Kurt. Though there are some Broadway standards songbooks in my office if you need to borrow them.”
Kurt felt a tightening in his chest. Why did everyone think he was capable of only one genre of music? Kurt listened to a lot of music. And the song he was performing was different to anything he’d ever done before. He’d just have to nail it and show them who he was.
“I think I’ll be okay, Mr. Schuester, but thank you. I’m not performing a musical theatre song this week.”
Mr. Schuester’s eyes widened momentarily before he smiled. “That’s great, Kurt. We’ll see you bright and early tomorrow and look forward to your selection.”
Kurt stormed away, clutching his satchel with thinly veiled disgust. Well he hoped it was the last time he would need to do that.
As he left, everyone eyed him curiously, wondering what the next day would hold.
Kurt said a vague hello to his father as he passed by to his basement bedroom. He shut the door and locked it, leaning against the wood.
He shrugged off his satchel, jacket and boots. He flopped onto his bed and sighed, staring at the ceiling.
“Why do you hide, Kurt? Why do you dance for them?”
He kicked his feet against his bed angrily.
Exhaling, he placed his palms against each other, feeling the negative energy leave his body. He thanked his training for that useful ability.
He sat up, rather restlessly, an idea striking him harshly.
Kurt got off his bed, bounding across the room. He swiped a pair of scissors and snipped them experimentally.
And, in an ironic twist, Kurt’s revelation began with him going into the closet.
The next day saw what should have been a normal day at McKinley High turn into one of the most eventful days on record.
As the Glee Club walked into the choir room, seemingly all at once, they stopped in their tracks.
Somebody was sat at the piano, tinkling the ivories in an unfamiliar melody, guitar strapped to their back.
“Excuse me, we have rehearsal in here!” Rachel stepped forward, pointing her finger, even though the person was turned away from her.
“I know, Rachel, I just got here early,” Kurt Hummel said brightly, standing and turning to face them.
They took in the sight with incredulous looks.
Kurt was wearing Converse trainers, preceded by his usual black skinny jeans, but with a twist. They were ripped at the knee.
Kurt never marred his clothes, not even for the sake of fashion itself.
Going higher, Kurt was also wearing a red plaid shirt, open, with a black tank top vest underneath.
And his hair!
It was stylishly unkempt, but looked unnatural to those who had never seen it. Which was everybody currently stood in the doorway of the choir room right now, and everybody who had seen Kurt enter earlier that morning. Their expressions were the same, mouths open and eyebrows furrowed.
Even the usually unshakeable Puck and Santana were floored. Santana was giving him a very strange look, her usual smirk still fixed in place despite the surprise. Puck was...leering. It was unsettling, now Kurt knew how the girls felt. But wait. Puck was leering at him? Kurt Hummel? A boy?
“Kurt, what are you wearing?” Mercedes gasped.
Kurt shrugged, adjusting his guitar. “My clothes.”
“They’re not your clothes.”
“Well, I found them in my closet, so they must be my clothes.”
Kurt’s voice was lower than they’d heard it before. It was still higher than the average male, but lower in tone than what Kurt was used to. They knew he could sing low, Give Up The Funk had been one hell of an event for Kurt, but his speaking voice being altered was a strange shock to the system.
Mr. Schuester chose that moment to enter, looking at his notes. “Why is everybody standing in the doorway...Kurt?”
“Good morning, Mr. Schuester.”
“What happened to you?”
Kurt frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“This, your outfit. You play guitar?”
“Guitar, piano, violin and the occasional ukulele, yes.”
“I didn’t even know you owned Converse,” Mercedes argued.
Kurt folded his arms. “Well, it seems that I do. Now are you going to make your peace with that so we can start the lesson?”
Kurt sat in the back corner of the mini bleachers they had assembled. “I’d like to volunteer myself to go last.”
Mr. Schuester sighed. “Sure, why not? Does anybody else want to start us off?”
Rachel raised her hand sharply, but her eyes were still fixed on Kurt.
That wasn’t necessarily the way Kurt wanted it, but he knew there would be backlash. And it would only get worse once they found who he really was past the clothes. That wouldn’t go down well with Mercedes or Tina, he wasn’t sure about the rest of them. He rather thought the boys would take more of an interest in him after this session, but he wasn’t worried about it. He knew his life and he knew that any real friends would accept him for who he was. And if they didn’t, well...fuck ‘em.
As everybody sat down, Rachel leaned back against the piano.
“So as everybody knows by now, I’m quite an open book. I don’t hide who I am and I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not,” Rachel quite pointedly eyed Kurt here. “So, I’m going to sing something that reflects my truest self as you all know it to be.”
As Rachel soared into a technically powerful yet creatively dull performance of Diva’s Lament from Spamalot, Kurt actually yawned.
Several others, including Mike, Santana, Brittany, Quinn and Puck, rolled their eyes. Finn pretend to be interested for the sake of his relationship but he was never a very good actor.
Rachel bowed before anybody even clapped.
Everyone did, but more out of courtesy and Mr. Schuester’s expectant eyes than actual adoration for her performance.
“Any feedback?” Rachel snapped to the quiet audience.
Kurt scoffed. “No, Rachel, you’re as self-obsessed as always, keep doing a mediocre job.”
Rachel gaped. “Well I doubt you could match that. You’ve never been as good as me, even though you think you are.”
Quinn frowned. “Rachel...Kurt’s better than you are. And I mean no disrespect, you’re very good, but Kurt’s always been better.”
“Does anyone else remember Defying Gravity?” Artie piped up. Rachel beamed at him, but he looked away.
Kurt sighed. “No thanks to Artie’s attempts to stir the pot of drama, I’m sure we all remember the Diva-Off debacle. No, I didn’t hit the High F. Yes, I can hit it normally. No, I won’t be giving Rachel her rematch that I know now she’ll so desperately crave. I blew the note and I blew it for a reason. I’m not going to go into specifics, I’d just like to get on with the assignment.”
“I wonder why you don’t want to challenge me again,” Rachel said passive-aggressively.
“Seems like you’ve been challenged, Kurt,” Santana smirked over at him. He met her gaze and raised an eyebrow.
“Seems I have,” Kurt replied shortly. He turned to Mr. Schuester. “I guess I’ll go next. But I’m leaving straight after I perform. I don’t want to stick around for questions and Rachel’s inevitable claims of me cheating when she realises I’m more talented than her.”
Kurt grabbed his guitar and stool and walked to the centre of the room. He sat down, positioning his guitar, tweaking the tuning a little bit. He faced the room, Mr. Schuester having sat with the rest of the club for this performance.
“So as you can see, I’m dressed differently today. Well, it may seem different to you but this is who I’ve always been.
“When I left middle school, I knew that high school was going to be difficult. None of you knew me properly back then, but I always dressed somewhat like this. It was only coming into high school that changed things.”
Kurt turned pensive.
“When I got here, I knew that everyone could tell that I was gay. I had never come out, apart from to Mercedes and my father. Everyone just took what they saw at face value. So I played right into their hands. I made my voice sound squeakier, I dressed in the latest designer clothing, I immersed myself into what the typical gay teenager would be like.
“Fashion, Broadway, celebrity culture, romantic comedies. All things that I’ve pretended to like for past two years to make it easier for myself. Because it’s always been easier to be someone else than have everyone not understand who you actually are. They expected the clothes and the musicals and the gossiping, but none of that is actually very interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like musical theatre, but I’m not as enamoured with it as I had you all believe.
“Now I’m getting on a little bit here, so I’m going to reintroduce myself to you all in hopes that you’ll like me for who I am. Hi, I’m Kurt Elijah Hummel and I like video games. I like car chase movies and explosive action flicks. Every week when I say I’m at dance class, I’m studying taekwondo and various other self-defence techniques. I’m sorry if you all feel misled, but this is who I am and I’m not going to apologise for it.”
Kurt strummed the first chord on his guitar and hummed along softly with the instrument.
“This song is about something that I was told when I was younger. But it’s also about this moment right here, where I’m making the choice to present myself to the world not as I’d like to be seen, but as I am. This is an original song that I wrote, I hope you all enjoy it.”
Kurt took a deep breath. “Little boys don’t cry, little boys aren’t shy,” he sang as he picked at the guitar. His voice was slightly lower than he was used to, having recently put more strenuous practice into perfecting his upper register. It took him a few seconds to fully reacquaint himself with his lower, but it became natural within a short space of time.
“Little boys are tough, they do stuff that little girls don’t try,” he continued, pouring gallons of emotion into each syllable, reflecting back on why he wrote them and how they were still relevant today.
When Elizabeth Hummel passed away, Burt and Kurt’s relationship became strained. Burt would yell at Kurt for every little thing, even if he hadn’t done anything wrong. He would Kurt would always be scolded for doing things that ‘son’s shouldn’t’. When Kurt had expressed an interest in singing, Burt said that girls sang those types of songs, not boys.
Kurt had sought out typical boy hobbies to make his father happy and found himself truly enjoying them, all the while pursuing singing as well. He figured he could create a balance and it all would be okay.
When he had come out to his father, it had been fine. For a while.
A month later, they had argued about it when he told his dad he had a crush on a boy. Burt had said that he wanted Kurt to love who he loved, but it wasn’t proper for him to display it in such ways at such a young age. Kurt had rebutted fiercely about the hypothetical if he was a girl or a straight boy nothing would have to change in Burt’s views, so why should it matter that he was gay? That had resulted in a fierce argument about hypocrisy and the matters of right and wrong. Burt had eventually capitulated, but Kurt had come away from that confrontation feeling worse about himself and his sexuality than ever before. He had never been ashamed of it, but he wondered if there was something wrong if his own father couldn’t accept him for it.
“Little boys don’t dance, little boys wear pants. Little boys are bold and then told they don’t hold little boys’ hands,” Kurt crooned passionately.
He was glad the lights were off, he didn’t want to see anybody else’s faces quite at the moment. He was just enjoying the moment of being free, of being himself.
“Dad said, I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe in you.” That had come when Burt had apologised by suggesting that Kurt wait a few years before truly identifying himself as anything. Kurt declined the apology, deeming it disrespectful and lazy.
“And son if you believe in daddy, take a look at this book and believe it’s true,” Kurt finished the pre-chorus, attempting a complicated run he only did on certain performances of the song. Particularly now, when he was feeling confident, he was happy to be arranged it and attempted it as such. He had actually written it for the piano, but he much preferred the new guitar arrangement, it was so much more Kurt than the piano version.
“There’s somewhere over the rainbow, and if you change the way you love, then maybe you can go.”
He heard somebody sniffle. He didn’t know who it was.
He also heard footsteps coming from behind him, but he was too engrossed to look for them.
“The streets are paved with bricks of gold, and if you wanna see then come pray with me. Cause somewhere over the rainbow! There’s a man who’s powerful and he wants you to know where the rain goes, after the pain goes, you’ll be dancing with halos...somewhere over the rainbow.”
Kurt adjusted in his seat a little, finding a new comfortable position. He soared into his upper register to create the between chorus and verse harmonies he had written. It was hard to do solo, but such was the way he was performing it. Such was life.
“Little boys stand tall, little boys play ball. Little boys, they stink, they’re not weak, they don’t like pink at all,” Kurt introduced the second verse, a reprisal of yet another conversation he had, but this time with Finn.
He shook his head shortly, trying to forget that conversation had ever happened.
“Little boys don’t sing, little boys are kings, little boys fly kites, they ride bikes, they don’t like little girl things.” As Kurt sang, he wondered what if would have been like if he was straight, how much simpler his life might have been. He would’ve been accepted by everyone immediately. He might have even been popular, if such a thing mattered to him in this alternate version of himself.
“Dad said, I know my baby’s special. And you’ll grow to be a man. And I know the world may dance with devils, but be strong, be flown to this holy...land!” Kurt increased the power in his voice and distracted his own playing to hold the note, releasing it in a powerful descending run, which soared in the form of melisma.
“There’s somewhere over the rainbow, and if you change the way you love, then maybe you can go. The streets are paved with bricks of gold, and if you wanna see then come pray with me.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw somebody enter the room. Schue must have left the door open. Maybe some kids had taken an interest in Glee, that would have been nice.
“Cause somewhere over the rainbow! There’s a man who’s powerful and he wants you to know where the rain goes, after the pain goes, you’ll be dancing with halos...somewhere over the rainbow.”
He stopped playing guitar and repeated the last chorus acapella. He let his vocal acrobatics take over, something he knew that would impress everyone. Not that he cared, he just wanted to show them what he could do properly for once.
“There’s somewhere...over...the...rainbow,” Kurt concluded in a beautifully haunting echo of his own voice.
“Kurt...” someone said quietly, but Kurt was too in his head to recognise the voice.
As the lights flickered on, he swept his guitar onto his back and flitted from the room, leaving the Glee Club to applaud raucously in his absence. He heard them cheer and clap as he walked down the hallway.
He was glad nobody could see him wipe the tears from his eyes.