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If you were coming in the Fall, I'd brush the Summer by

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The best part of McKinley is Kurt, hands down, full stop, end of story. Next comes all the spontaneous singing that has nothing do with preparing for competition or performances at various places, and being able to sing to music. Also, Blaine fully understands Mercedes' thing about tater tots now. They're damn good.

But even beyond the bullying – which has gotten better, according to everyone, since Dave Karofsky had some sort of turn-around over the summer and now body-checks people for giving Kurt a hard time, which translates to leaving all the 'gleeks' alone (even though everyone else is still fair game) – Blaine has a difficult time with Mr. Schuster's assignments. Mr. Schuster wants them to sing about everything, and it seems like no one else ever has a problem finding the perfect song for the occasion, sometimes pulling them out of an invisible hat right then. And considering the rest of New Directions has new drama every week, Blaine's difficulty gets shoved to the wayside, which he's more than happy about. He and Kurt are going strong, better than awesome, and Kurt helps him choose a song, more often than not. Twice, they've even teamed up for a duet, which was totally awesome.

And then Mr. Schuster chooses the worst possible week to say, "Okay, guys, this week I think we should focus on parents."

Like, literally, the worst possible week out of all fifty-two. Blaine closes his eyes and sinks back in his chair, and Kurt reaches over to touch his hand, whispering, "Blaine?"

Blaine just shakes his head. This time last year, he didn't know Kurt yet.

"Parents, Mr. Schue?" Finn asks. "Like, how?"

"Parents make us who we are," Mr. Schuster elaborates, writing PARENTS on the board, underlining and circling it. "They affect us, either good or bad, and this week, I want you all to think about it. Pick songs that best describe your relationship, or how you feel, what you like the most or don't like at all – about your parents. Okay?" He claps his hands, smiling broadly. "Okay!"

And that's that.

"Blaine?" Kurt says again, taking his hand. "What's wrong?"

"Just… just a bad week," he replies, sighing, squeezing Kurt's hand.

"Oh," Kurt says, clearly not believing him. He studies Blaine for a moment, letting the choir room empty out. "You wanna come over after school, brainstorm ideas for what to sing about?"

Blaine smiles, standing. "I'd love to," he says. "But I can't."

0o0

When Blaine was seven, his mother almost burned their house down. She'd lost her temper with him, with his questions about what would happen if a zebra and giraffe had a baby, if the zebaffe would take over Africa, then Australia, then the world, so she'd slammed down the bottle of vegetable oil and stormed out of the kitchen.

The top wasn't on the bottle, and it was right next to the hot stove. Blaine followed her to his parents' bedroom, where he knocked on the locked door, calling, "Mama? Mama, are you okay?"

She didn't respond, so he kept knocking.

0o0

Tuesday, Blaine meets Kurt at his locker and the day's completely normal. A few dirty looks, and a slushy averted when Puck pops up behind them and slings his arms over their shoulders. "'s'up, dudes," he says.

"Nothing, Noah," Kurt responds, rolling his eyes. Blaine grins.

"Listen, Warbler," Puck says, "you're smart, right? Both of ya. You went to that fancy school."

"Yeah, I guess," Blaine replies after a moment, glancing at Kurt for help. Kurt simply rolls his eyes again.

"We're not doing your homework," Kurt says flatly.

"No, that's not it," Puck protests. He fidgets, looking around before pulling them into the choir room. He sighs, crossing his arms and backing away. "I'll never get out of this place," he says softly, eyes on the floor. "I've always wanted to, but I know… I'm a Lima loser, and that's all I'm ever gonna be."

"Puck," Blaine says. "I'm sure that's not true."

Puck scoffs. Kurt asks, "What do you want from us?"

Meeting Blaine's eyes, then looking at Kurt, Puck says, "Help me find stuff to do to bring up my grades. Or add stuff to college applications. Math'll be easy – I show up for test days and I ace 'em. But everything else…" He shrugs.

Rachel bursts into the room, ranting to Finn and Tina, who follow in her wake. Puck separates from Blaine and Kurt, going to Finn and starting up a discussion about the football team.

"… wow," Kurt says. "That, I did not expect."

Blaine huffs a small laugh and grabbed Kurt's hand, leading him to their chairs.

Mr. Schuster comes in at that point to announce the order of their performances; Kurt will be ninth, Blaine's last.

All of Blaine winces at the thought. Seriously, worst week ever.

0o0

Mama didn't come out of her room until smoke had filled the house. Blaine had been throwing bowl-fulls of water on the fire for forever by that point, and the stove was burning.

"Shit, Blaine, what did you do?" she demanded, shoving him aside. "Stop with the water!" He froze, dropping the bowl, noticing for the first time that he was crying. His eyes hurt. His hands hurt.

His heart hurt.

"You always do things like this, Blaine!" Mama shouted, grabbing a jar of white powder out of the baking cabinet. She twisted off the lid and tossed the whole thing onto the fire. "Why can't you be a good little boy?" She ranted and yelled until the flames were completely gone, and then she cut herself off suddenly, turning to look at him.

Blaine was in the corner of the cabinets, as far from the stove as he could get and still be in the kitchen. He couldn't stop crying, gasping for breath, wanting his mother to tell him everything would be okay.

But Mama stalked over to him, grabbed his arm, yanked him up, and dragged him to the stove. "Look at it," she hissed. "Look what you did to my beautiful kitchen!"

"I'm sorry!" he wailed, sobbing even harder now.

She scoffed and shoved him away, storming out of the kitchen. He heard her bedroom door slam and flinched, collapsing.

(It'd be five years before Dad told him he wasn't the cause of the fire.)

0o0

Blaine scours his musical library. He wracks his brain for any song that would convey – what? What did Mr. Schue's explanation explain? Absolutely nothing.

So he calls David to ask for guidance. He details the assignment, previous examples of Mr. Schue's preferences, and his own cluelessness.

"What did Kurt say?" David asks.

Blaine shrugs, throwing himself back on the bed. "Kurt wants our songs to be a surprise," he mutters. "His dad is awesome, David. Like, the coolest guy in the world."

"Hey," David says. "Your dad is a good guy."

David knows the bare bones of Blaine's family problems. Wes and Thad know slightly less. Nobody knows the whole story. Blaine can't even contemplate telling Kurt, not yet. Not ever.

"Dad does his best," Blaine says. "So, what should I sing? 'Cat's in the Cradle'?"

"If you want." David pauses. "Blaine, think about your parents. What you like the most, what you don't like. Is there anything you want to say that you haven't been able to?"

Blaine thinks. "If I haven't said it to my parents," he asks after a moment, "why would I tell a room full of people I barely know?"

"I don't know, Blaine. But that seems to be the assignment," David says patiently. "Think about past assignments, the requirements, and the critiques."

Blaine nods. "Thanks, David. I'll do 'Cat's in the Cradle', I think."

"Good luck," David says. "Let me know how it goes."

"Will do," Blaine tells him. He lets the phone fall next to him and considers getting up to play his keyboard for a run-through of the song.

He takes a nap instead. Dad wakes him up for dinner; after the meal, Blaine does the dishes, showers, and calls Kurt for their nightly discussion.

As he lies in bed, after hanging up for the night, he thinks about writing his own song, just for a second. Something like, sometimes it feels good to feel nothin', nothin' at all. But he knows he could never bare so much, not for people he barely knows, not even for Kurt. (Not yet.)

0o0

When he committed Mom for the first time, Dad explained that she was sick and nothing was her fault. Blaine's arm still throbbed from where she'd accidentally broken it and it not being her fault didn't make the words hurt any less.

Blaine was twelve when Dad finally took Mom to a doctor. Mom refused to take her pills and she lied to all three of her psychiatrists, so the second time she lit a candle and held Blaine's hand to the flame, Dad took her to the hospital.

His arm was still broken, then. He still believed it was his fault, then. And the second time, and the third time. Mom was so good at faking being better, being safe

When Blaine was fourteen, he nearly died after attending his first high-school dance. While Dad was at work, Mom gave Blaine her medication instead of his painkiller.

After that, Dad gave up. He sent Blaine to Dalton and committed Mom full-time, and he promised Blaine he was blameless. Most of Blaine believed Dad. Part of him never would.

0o0

Quinn, Mike, and Artie perform their songs on Wednesday. Mr. Schue praises them, for their courage and honesty. Kurt mutters about trite and overdone, concerning Quinn's rendition of Mulan's 'Reflection,' and Blaine shushes him.

After glee, Blaine heads to Calculus, separating from Kurt, who has French. Puck follows Blaine and asks, "So?"

Blaine glances up at him. "So what?"

Puck sighs heavily and rolls his eyes. "So, Warbler, have you thought about it?"

"Oh," Blaine says. "Yes, right." He really wishes Kurt were here for this: Kurt knows how to handle Puck. "Well, attendance and actually completing homework would help your grades, and your image for potential colleges."

"What?" Puck whines. "Dude, school is so boring. Since I can't fight anymore, I might as well not come."

Blaine stops and swings around, poking Puck in the chest. Puck freezes in shock, staring down at him. "The fuck?" he says.

"Listen to me," Blaine hisses. "You want out of this cesspool? Want to make something of yourself?" Blaine lets his hand drop. "You asked me for advice. I gave it. If you want to drown in Lima, keep doing what you've been doing. But me and Kurt? We'll be gone."

He turns away and goes to Calculus.

Just before the bell rings, Puck slips in and stalks to the back, ignoring Blaine. He collapses into a desk and glares at the room in general.

Blaine pulls out his book and notebook, grinning.

0o0

The first semester at Dalton, Blaine lived on campus and never saw his parents. He didn't have to prepare medication Mom wouldn't take, or dodge the words she shouted and muttered, or listen to Dad's excuses as he kept his nose to the grindstone and swam in denial.

The first semester at Dalton, he focused on himself. He was a sophomore and he aced each class, and he offered answers, and he slept easily every night. He woke when his alarm went off, he ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and he had never been happier in his life.

He went home for winter break. He and Dad were alone; Dad worked every day except Christmas and New Year's. Blaine rearranged songs for himself, wrote music, studied ahead in his textbooks, read and reread books for fun, and memorized everything Pink had ever done.

They saw Mom once, two days before he returned to school. She said she loved him, and that she wished she'd gotten the abortion her sister wanted.

Blaine didn't cry over his mother anymore, but only because he'd sworn to himself he wouldn't.

Instead, he ignored everything but himself. He would succeed at Dalton and go far away, and never return to the place that had never been home.

He lived on campus again for the second half of sophomore year. He tried out for the Warblers, Dalton's show choir, when they held auditions in the spring. He sang Pink's 'Eventually,' channeling his rage and weariness about Mom into it, and it was so cathartic he felt like a thousand pound weight was gone from his shoulders when he was done. To his shock and joy, his name was at the top of list when they posted the names of the five boys who made it in.

Blaine finished his first year at Dalton with a 4.0, friends, a spot on the Warblers as a junior, and so very excited for the future.

That summer, he didn't see his mother at all.

0o0

"So, you know Taylor Swift, right?" Kurt asks as he takes off his jacket and hangs it in his closet, Wednesday afternoon. Finn has football practice and their parents are at work… an entire house, all for Blaine and Kurt, until after six. Blaine likes Wednesdays.

"I've never met her," Blaine says, scrolling through Kurt's music on his iPod. Nothing better than 'Cat's in the Cradle' jumps out at him. "I know her songs, though. 'Long Live' is the best."

"Well," Kurt says, taking his iPod back, to put on his bedside table, and grabbing Blaine's hand. "Last night, Carole was listening to the radio as we came back from an emergency grocery run." He tugs Blaine off the bed and they head downstairs to the den. "'White Horse' came on, and I'd been able to avoid her, you know that. Too trite, too cliché – but I listened, Blaine. To the whole song."

Kurt pushes him down on the couch and settles next to him. "She's still trite and cliché," Kurt mutters, but he gives up talking for something much more fun, and the next twenty minutes are devoted to making out.

When Blaine moves down to kiss Kurt's elegant neck, Kurt confesses, "I bought all of Taylor Swift's music from iTunes last night." He tilts his head to give Blaine better access. "She's addicting, Blaine. It's like the same song over and over, but I couldn't stop listening. I found my song for this week's assignment."

"Which one?" Blaine asks, leaning back and licking his lips.

"Nuh uh," Kurt says, shaking his finger at Blaine. "Total secrecy, remember?"

Blaine smiles. "Bet I can guess," he says, pulling Kurt back in. "'The Best Day', am I right?"

Kurt pouts. Blaine laughs and dives back to Kurt's neck.

0o0

Junior year at Dalton was even better than sophomore. Four months into it, he met Kurt. Four and a half months into it, Kurt transferred to Dalton.

Halfway through the second semester, he finally realized what everyone around him had already figured out and grabbed Kurt tight, knowing he'd never let go unless Kurt told him to.

And a few weeks after that, Kurt went back to McKinley, and the safety of Dalton, for the first time, felt more like a cage.

So Blaine asked his father if he could go back to public school. Face his ghosts and fears like an Anderson should.

Blaine finished his junior year with a 4.0, a boyfriend, and happier than he'd ever been. He hadn't seen his mother in over thirteen months; he thought that might have something to do with it.

When Blaine told Kurt the news, he made Blaine swear he wasn't going to McKinley just to be with Kurt.

He promised, listing all the reasons that won his argument with Dad, and then he softly sang, "Before you met me, I was a wreck; but things were kinda heavy - you brought me to life. Now every February, you'll be my valentine, valentine."

Kurt melted against him; as he kissed his way across Blaine's face, he murmured, "You can't sing that to distract me every time, you know. The magic will be lost."

"If you say so," Blaine snickered, trying to dodge Kurt's fingers as they gently dug into his sides.

0o0

Thursday starts with pouring rain. It doesn't get better.

When he sits down at the table with Dad for their once-a-week breakfast together, Dad says, "Blaine, your mother is ready to come home again."

Blaine drops his fork and stares at him. "You can't be serious."

Dad says, "Blaine, I'm really hopeful this time. Dr. Malloran told me that she's greatly improved. It's been six months since any major incident."

"I…" Blaine takes a deep breath. Asks, "Do I get a say?"

Dad nods, with a hesitant smile. "If you really don't want her to live with you, I'll wait until you've gone to college."

And that – hurts. Dully, somewhere inside. Maybe the place that broke with Blaine's arm, years ago. The place scarred with burns. The place where he's wished he were deaf or dead more than once. (The place where he once prayed for Mom's life to end.)

"I'll think about it," Blaine says, and doesn't eat anything else.

He considers skipping school. Except, the PFLAG is meeting today. Their first meeting. He can't miss that.

So he goes to school. Lauren, Finn, and Rachel perform their songs; Finn, surprisingly enough, sings 'He Lives In You' from the second Lion King, with Artie, Puck, and Sam as back-up. Rachel chose 'Baby Mine,' making Blaine wonder if they'd talked it over and gone with Disney as a theme. Of course, then he wonders if Quinn had been in on the discussion and Kurt raises an eyebrow at him when he snorts at the thought.

After school, he attends the meeting like a dutiful boyfriend, ignoring Kurt's concerned looks when he never speaks up about anything, and when it's finished, he tells Kurt that he'll see him tomorrow.

That night, when Kurt calls, Blaine doesn't answer.

0o0

He was seven, the first time he realized there was something wrong with Mama. He was fifteen the last time he saw her. He never wants to see her again.

Dad made him see a child psychologist at twelve, and again at fifteen. The second time didn't really help him, but he learned what Dr. Fresan wanted to hear and he said it.

He thinks about telling Kurt all the time. He never mentions his mother; there are photos of her in the house, and he's seen Kurt looking at them, the few times they go to his home instead of Kurt's, but Kurt doesn't ask. Blaine knows he's waiting for the topic to come up, for Blaine to initiate it.

Blaine wants to – part of him really, honestly does. The rest of him is still a little kid, banging on a door and calling for Mama while the house nearly burns down.

0o0

When he meets up with Kurt in the parking lot Friday morning, Kurt' clearly caught being angry and being worried. "Blaine," he demands, "what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Blaine lies, and by the hurt expression on Kurt's face for just a minute before he blanks it out, he knows it's a lie. "I just… I'm working through something. And I want to tell you, but I… I can't, at the moment." He bites his lip. "Please, Kurt. Give me time."

Kurt studies him, head tilted to the left. Blaine waits, forcing himself to take steady breaths.

Over Kurt's shoulder, he sees Dave body-check a hockey player and continue on with only a quick glance at Kurt.

"Next time you don't want to talk, just tell me," Kurt finally says. "I'll understand, Blaine; sometimes, I just want to curl up in the dark and listen to the silence. Okay?"

Blaine nods. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Kurt tells him, linking their arms. "Now, when I blow everyone away with my perfect song this afternoon, act surprised."

"Of course."

0o0

Blaine has to believe his father didn't know the extent of his mother's problems. They never speak about it, not after the last visit, and Blaine never asks, will never ask. He tries to ignore the whole issue, in fact.

Maybe that isn't healthy. Dr. Fresan would probably tell him so. But he walked out of the facility, head held high, and he turned to his father, and he said, "I never want to see her again."

Dad frowned. "Blaine," he said. "Son."

Blaine held his gaze until Dad looked away. "If that's what you want."

0o0

Brittany goes first Friday afternoon, with an unbelievable performance of the Winnie-the-Pooh theme song. Blaine stares; everyone stares. It's quite moving, though.

"Ah, thank you, Brittany," Mr. Schue says. "I'm not sure what that has to do with your parents—"

"Mom and I watch Pooh every Saturday morning," Brittany explains. "Lord Tubbington eats all the honey."

"Okay," he says, rubbing at the back of his head. "In that case, well done. Sam, you're up."

Kurt's bouncing next to Blaine throughout the entirety of Sam's performance. As Sam winds down, though, Kurt suddenly grabs Blaine's hand and leans over to whisper, "What if it's awful? I mean, what if everyone laughs?"

Blaine turns to meet his eyes. "Would your dad laugh?"

"No," Kurt says, face softening. "He'd duck his head, and get embarrassed, and listen with a smile." He dives in for a quick kiss and stands.

Blaine will never tire of listening to Kurt sing. From the first note of "I'm five years old, it's getting cold, I've got my big coat on" to the last note of "I had the best day with you today," Blaine's completely captivated. He really does love that boy.

He's the first to clap, and he gives a sharp whistle as Kurt daintily curtsies before hurrying back to him. "It wasn't too trite, was it?" he asks.

Shaking his head, Blaine says, "It was perfect."

0o0

Blaine's earliest memory of his mom is something he thought might be a dream: baking cookies together. Mama let him crack the eggs and dump in the chocolate chips, and he got the first taste of the dough. He couldn't be more than three, which was why he was utterly sure he made it up. Nobody remembered stuff from that young.

When he was thirteen, he found a picture in his mom's jewelry drawer, while he looked for the key she'd hidden to the storeroom. The picture was of them, both laughing, covered in flour, and Blaine couldn't be more than three.

He stared at the photo for a long time, then he put it back, went to his room, and curled up beneath his covers.

0o0

Puck catches up with Blaine and Kurt in the hall. "Dudes," he says, "I need help."

"We already established that, Noah, remember?" Kurt asks, digging through his bag for his keys. "Don't you have a meeting with Ms. Pillsbury to get to?"

"Ah, shit," Puck groans. "I totally forgot." He reaches out to gently shove Kurt's shoulder, making Kurt look up with a glare. "But, seriously, I have no idea which song to do."

Kurt blinks, glances at Blaine, then blinks up at Puck again. "You… want my help to pick a song about your relationship with your parents?"

Puck looks at the floor and nods. Kurt mouths wow, then says, "I assume you've already considered and discarded quite a few?"

Puck nods again.

"Are you free tomorrow?" Kurt asks. "You should email me a list of the songs you've vetoed, and maybe… would you be comfortable telling me what you want to convey with your final selection?"

Puck shoots Blaine a quick look, but Blaine's very intently staring at the wall. Puck shrugs and mutters, "Never bein' good enough. Never bein' sure what anyone wants, and why I'm not enough."

Kurt flinches. By the time Puck meets his gaze again, though, he simply looks earnest. "Come over tomorrow afternoon," he says. "We'll find the perfect song for you."

"Thanks," Puck mutters, brushing past them. Halfway down the hall, he spins on his heel, and says, "Warbler, homework's funner than I thought. School's still boring, though."

Blaine laughs; Puck turns around and hurries to Ms. Pillsbury's office. "How did you know he had an appointment?" Blaine asks.

"Finn," Kurt says. "Noah's father apparently returned a few days ago. He's… out of sorts."

It's like a slushy to the face. Blaine closes his eyes, clenches his fist, lists his favorite Pink songs alphabetically.

"Blaine?" Kurt says, sounding worried.

"'My Vietnam,'" he murmurs.

"Hmm." Kurt taps his index finger against his lips. "That could work. I'll be sure to mention it." He focuses back on Blaine. "Do you still need more time?"

Blaine nods. Kurt grabs his hand and says, "Let's go home. You can help me reorganize the rec-room, then help me with dinner."

"Sounds like fun," Blaine says. "I love you."

Kurt smiles the smile he always wears whenever Blaine says it - shocked, awed, I can't believe it, you said it, why me, you silly boy?

Kurt says, "I love you, too."

0o0

Blaine cannot tell Kurt that he never wanted to see his mother again. Kurt can never see his mother again because she died. She fought valiantly against cancer and she lost. It was relatively quick, as far as those things go, and Kurt was able to say goodbye, but. Still.

Kurt's mother was stolen in the prime of her life, when he was still so young.

Blaine has a living mother, and most of the time, he thinks he loves her. But sometimes… more than once, he's wished she were dead.

And if he told Kurt any of it, he'd spill the whole thing. He knows that.

So he can't say anything at all.

0o0

Blaine spends Saturday morning making a list of the pros and cons of living with Mom again. In the cons, he puts everything he remembers from that fire on. In the pros, he puts only it might make Dad happy. Then he adds, it won't even be a year.

Dad comes home for a long lunch and Blaine hands him the list. Dad crumples it in his hand, letting it fall to the table, next to his sandwich. "I'll tell Dr. Malloran we have to wait a year," he says.

Blaine nods and goes upstairs, where he listens to his soundtrack medley. The Passion of the Christ sounds just like he feels. Around four, he gets a text from Kurt that says Why are boys so silly?

He laughs, texting back, Puck making things difficult?

You have no idea, Kurt responds, and that's it until after supper (silent and awkward, and Blaine doesn't look at Dad once), when Kurt sends him, We went with your suggestion. Puck does it justice; there will be crying.

Blaine smiles and hits the call button. He really needs to talk to Kurt, just lose himself in Kurt's voice. So when Kurt answers, Blaine asked him a question about the New Directions outfits for Sectionals and listens.

0o0

The summer between sophomore and junior years, Dad bought an old wreck. He asked Blaine to fix it up with him.

All in all, it wasn't a bad project. Dad talked about when he was young, the things he'd always wanted to do with his life – he wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock, to swim with dolphins.

So Blaine told him about writing music, how wonderful it felt to find just the right note, the perfect chord for an emotion.

The third week, Dad asked him what he looked for in a boy.

Blaine stared at him, fingers slack on the wrench, and then told him about a quick wit and strong hands, about a sense of humor and a love of music, about being brave.

(Half a year later, Blaine would look at Kurt and wonder if he weren't a little bit psychic.)

0o0

On Sunday, Blaine and Kurt have a day-long date. They drive down to Columbus in time for lunch, wander around the mall, then go to a traveling tour show of Wicked. Blaine watches Kurt more than he does the play, and on the way home, Kurt gives him a blow-by-blow retelling of his and Rachel's adventure in New York. They sing along to the soundtrack, Kurt as Elphaba and Blaine as Fiyero – and, oh, there is a suggestion to make for the spring play, holy shit. Blaine stumbles with the lyrics at the thought of how wonderful that would be.

"Blaine?" Kurt asks.

"Just thinking about us in this play," Blaine tells him.

"Oh," Kurt says, then cocks his head to the side, clearly considering. "Oh, wow. That would be the definition of awesome."

"Wouldn't it?" Blaine says.

Kurt smirks at him and turns down the volume to purr the words to 'As Long As You're Mine.' Blaine shivers and his voice shakes as he joins in.

It's a very long drive.

0o0

Blaine knew he loved Kurt from the beginning. He just didn't realize it was different from his love for his friends. Kurt was everything Blaine had ever wanted, and more besides, but Kurt needed a friend. A mentor. Kurt needed guidance, and time to rest, and a safe place to be himself.

Dalton… was not that place. Kurt could endure it, but was that really any better than McKinley? Dalton had given Blaine the time and space he needed to find himself, but it stifled Kurt, even while keeping him physically safe.

They both boarded there, since the drive would've been too difficult for Kurt to do regularly, and even before Blaine realized how he loved Kurt, they had sleepovers most nights. Talking, mostly. Kurt told him about his mother, and McKinley, about his dreams – fashion designs, and choreography, and the three novels he'd started but that still languished unfinished. Blaine told Kurt about everything except his mother.

Blaine thought they were best friends. Kurt knew better.

0o0

On Monday morning, Blaine lets out a deep sigh of relief. The week was over. He'd noticed that everything horrible happened the fourth week of September. His arm. The fire. The only thing that didn't fit was the dance, but that was something Mom reacted to, not something she caused.

She almost came home the fourth week of September.

But that week is over now, and they're in the first week of October, so he can breathe easily. He's in a euphoria all day and Kurt keeps giving him the you're so cute I want to cuddle look.

In fact, it's a wonderful day until their afternoon glee meeting.

Kurt and Blaine sit in their usual spot, the left corner, top row. Puck plops next to Kurt, slouching down, crossing his arms, and glaring. "Stop sulking," Kurt tells him. "Be the badass I know you are. You'll kill the song."

Puck doesn't say anything, so Kurt turns to Blaine to ask for clarification on a math principle. Blaine begins explaining while the room fills up, and just before Mr. Schue calls the class to order, Puck leans across Kurt to hiss at Blaine that he's "so very fuckin' wrong, dude."

Kurt grins, Puck rolls his eyes, and Blaine smiles at them both.

"Now," Mr. Schue says, "we have five performances left, so let's get started."

Mercedes goes first, performing excellently as always. Her rousing rendition of 'Dance With My Father' is perfectly done.

"Mercedes, that was truly awesome," Mr. Schue says. "Puck, you're up next."

At first, Puck doesn't move. Kurt has to elbow him before he lunges to his feet and marches to the front of the room, carefully grabbing his guitar from its stand. "I don't want to talk about it," he mutters, and then he starts to play.

None of the band joins in; either Puck or Kurt had prepared it so that Puck can play it alone. Blaine isn't sure he likes it at first, until Puck starts to sing. It's soft, hesitant, but when he gets to "What do you expect from me? What am I not giving you? What could I do for you to make me okay in your eyes?" he finally looks up from the guitar, and he sounds so bitter, so angry. It's the best Blaine's heard from Puck.

Kurt had been right: Puck more than does Blaine's fifth favorite Pink song justice.

After he finishes, Puck gently puts his guitar back, ignoring the enthusiastic cheering after a moment of shocked silence, and stalks up the riser to sit by Kurt again. "It was amazing," Kurt tells him.

"It was an emo chick song," Puck grumbles, crossing his arms again. "Can't believe you talked me into it."

"Well," Mr. Schuster says. "Puck, wow."

Puck doesn't say anything, so Mr. Schue continues, "Tina, your turn."

As the music starts, Blaine's mouth drops open. He recognizes it – he'd been singing to it last night, practicing.

Tina's song is 'Cat's in the Cradle.' Crap. He barely listens, mentally scrolling through possibilities again. He has a day; he and Santana will perform on Wednesday. He picked 'Cat's in the Cradle' because it's easy, required little thought, and is actually a good song. Plus, it somewhat fits his situation. 'Family Portrait' might fit, except Puck has already done Pink.

And no, on second thought, much as he loves the song, it doesn't really fit at all.

Tina finishes; Blaine claps mechanically, ignoring Kurt's worried look.

It had been such a good day.

0o0

When Blaine was ten, he invited Cal Evanston over for the afternoon. Cal was in his class, and they played together at recess, and Cal sat with him at lunch. Cal was tall and funny and nice. He was Blaine's first crush, though Blaine didn't realize that for some time.

Mom wasn't usually home in the afternoons. Blaine didn't know where she went or what she did, but she never came home until just before dinner. Dad was always late, so he didn't notice.

Blaine and Cal were playing a videogame he's since forgotten when Mom stormed into the house, slamming the door behind her. She screamed nonsense when she saw Cal, and then walked over to Blaine, grabbing the controller from him; if he hadn't dodged, she'd have slapped him across the face.

Cal's eyes were wide, his face panicked, and Blaine looked at him. "Get out of here," Blaine hissed.

"But," Cal protested. "I can't leave alone you with her."

"You can't help," Blaine said, rolling off the couch and out of Mom's reach. "It'll be alright – go."

Cal went. Mom calmed down, smiled and petted Blaine's hair, calling him her special boy.

The next day, a social worker and a policeman talked to Blaine at school, then his parents at home.

Nothing came of it. Cal still spent time with Blaine at school, but he never came over. He invited Blaine to his home, instead.

0o0

Blaine and his father always have dinner together on Monday. Dad takes the afternoon off; it's his one free day. They doesn't always talk, but they sit at the dinner table together and eat in each other's company.

"I'm sorry," Blaine says into the quiet, staring down at his chicken. "Dad, I just can't… I can't live with her. Not after everything."

He never wants to see her, or hear her voice, or smell that godforsaken perfume she wore every day. Never wants to feel her hands again.

"I understand, Blaine," Dad says. "I shouldn't have asked it of you."

After they finish eating, Blaine clears the table and follows his father to the den, where Dad watches a documentary about volcanoes and Blaine makes a list of what he wants his song to convey.

Surviving, he finally decides. Endurance. Strength.

Hmm…

There is a song he knows that embodies all of that. One of his dad's favorites, in fact. And it might even be… perfect.

0o0

Blaine asked his mom for a puppy when he was eight. He promised that he would take care of the puppy every day, and the puppy could sleep in his bed, and he'd feed the puppy from his own plate.

She said to ask his father. Dad said no.

Three days later, Mama came home with a half-grown mutt and told Blaine the dog was his.

When Dad got home, he found Blaine playing with the puppy in the den. The puppy had already peed on the carpet and torn up one of the pillows; Mom was in bed with a headache, so when Blaine thought the puppy was hungry, he fed her left-over spaghetti from supper.

Blaine named her Xylophone. Dad took her to a shelter the next day. Mom said she had no idea where the dog came from and had never seen Xylophone before in her life.

0o0

Tuesday, Dave Karofsky stops Blaine in the hall on the way to second period. He looks around, but no one is watching, so Dave asks, "Can we talk after school?"

"I'm going to Kurt's house," Blaine says. "But if you want to meet somewhere at lunch?"

"Yeah," Dave mutters. "Choir room?"

Blaine nods. "I'll see you then."

"Trouble?" Puck asks, swooping in out of nowhere as Dave walks away.

"I don't think so," Blaine says, smiling. "On your way to English?"

Puck glares at him, but Blaine's smile simply brightens. Ms. Pillsbury had been so glad to hear Puck had a tutor, and gave him Puck's schedule with relief.

"You wrote the paper, didn't you?" Blaine asks. "Two pages about Jane Eyre?"

"It was so boring," Puck grumbles. "But Kurt said he'd help with my song if wrote the stupid thing."

"What theme did you focus on?" Blaine asks, pausing outside his classroom. He has AP English, and it's laughingly easy after Dalton. Puck's class is further down the hall, regular English.

"Going for something you want," Puck says. "No matter how hard it is." He grins, adding, "Kurt didn't change much – he said it was surprisingly good, for a Neanderthal."

"I'm glad," Blaine says.

Puck slaps his shoulder and heads on; Blaine laughs, hurrying to his desk.

When lunch rolls around, Blaine meets Kurt at his locker and tells him a conference has come up, that he might even miss lunch altogether. Kurt squeezes his arm and says they'll see each other after school.

Dave is already in the choir room when Blaine gets there. "How can I help you, Dave?" he asks calmly, every move non-threatening.

He doesn't think Dave will hurt him. Dave has come a long way from the angry boy who attacked Blaine the first time they met.

"How did you come out to your parents?" Dave blurts, the words tripping over each other.

"I took a deep breath," Blaine says, walking to the chairs and sitting down. "I remembered that they were my family and loved me. And I thought about how much I was tired of being afraid."

Dave sits down two chairs away, darting quick glances at Blaine from the corner of his eye. "And they didn't flip?"

"No," Blaine lies. "My dad thanked me for trusting them and finished his steak."

Dave looks at his hands. "And… life was easier?"

"Yeah," Blaine says. "Two summers ago, Dad even asked me about my type."

Chuckling, Dave leans back in his chair. Blaine watches with happiness as Dave relaxes. He looks like a different person when he smiles. "You can wait until college," he says. "Only come out when you're ready, Dave."

Dave nods, then stands and says, "Take care of Kurt." He walks out of the room.

Blaine follows him; there is still time for lunch, and his totally awesome boyfriend awaits.

0o0

Blaine came out to Dad first; he was thirteen and terrified and determined to tell the truth. So, he said, "Dad, I'm gay," while Dad read the Sunday paper. Mom was still upstairs.

Dad stared at him for a moment. "Are you sure?" he finally asked.

"I… I think so," Blaine said.

Dad nodded and went back to the paper. Blaine breathed a deep sigh of relief, sinking back into his chair, and reached out for the comics.

After lunch, while Dad made a quick run to the office for – something? Blaine told his mom. Because his father took it so well, he expected his mother would, as well.

He should have known better.

0o0

Tuesday afternoon, Blaine and Kurt cuddle on the couch while Blaine makes him watch the original Day of the Triffids. Kurt bitches all the way through it, complaining about the acting, special effects, uselessness of the women, and implausibility of the plot. Blaine just laughs.

As the movie ends, Kurt asks, "What happened at lunch?"

"Dave had questions about coming out," Blaine says.

Kurt lights up. "Really? Do you think he's ready?"

"No," Blaine says after a moment. "I really don't think he is."

Slumping down a little, Kurt says, "Yeah, I didn't think so. It'd be nice, though."

Blaine turns the TV off and leans against Kurt. "You're doing good with Puck," he murmurs, shifting slightly as Kurt's arm go around him, pulling him closer. "Are you going to proofread all his papers?"

"Yeah," Kurt says. "He's going to go over my math homework. He's like a savant or something. It's amazing." He pauses. "And completely unexpected. I mean, the guy who used to toss me into dumpsters can actually comprehend concepts that go right over my head. How weird is that?" He presses a kiss to Blaine's jaw, saying, "Tell me your song."

"Nope," Blaine says. "It's a surprise. It'll be awesome, though." He pulls away from Kurt, laughing at Kurt's noise of protest. "Your dad will be home any minute. I refuse to be caught debauching you."

"But what if I want you to debauch me?" Kurt whines.

"I'd prefer you didn't on my couch," Mr. Hummel says dryly.

Blaine looks past Kurt to Mr. Hummel, standing in the doorway, arms crossed. "Hi, Mr. Hummel," he says.

Kurt closes his eyes and groans silently. "Hello, Dad."

"Blaine, good to see you're controlling yourself. Stayin' for dinner?" Mr. Hummel asks.

"No, sir," Blaine says respectfully. "There's a project I need to work on." He smiles at Kurt. "I'll call you tonight before bed." As he walks past Mr. Hummel, he says, "Goodbye, sir."

"Bye, Blaine," Mr. Hummel calls behind him.

He waits till he's in his car to laugh hysterically. Then he goes home to practice. He sings the song through once, eats supper alone because Dad's working late, calls Kurt and talks for an hour about their New York plans, and falls asleep listening to his Kurt playlist.

Blaine isn't worried about the song; he's known it for years. He's been singing for just as long.

0o0

Mom didn't say anything after Blaine told her he was gay. He thought it went well. She didn't speak to him for three days, but that wasn't unusual.

Then, on Sunday, Mom was standing at Blaine's bedside when he woke up, and she was holding a lit candle.

"Mom?" he asked, sitting up. "What's wrong?"

"Give me your hand, baby," she said, smiling.

He knew what was coming. But she was so calm. She was his mom.

He held out his hand and watched as she gently gripped it, moving the candle closer.

She said, "You aren't gay, Blaine. Life will be too hard for you if you like boys."

"Yes, Mom," he whispered, his free hand clenched by his side.

He closed his eyes. Mom said, "Remember this, dearest. Any time you think those thoughts. Remember what you learned this morning."

From downstairs, Dad called, "Maria! Blaine! Breakfast!"

Mom blew out the candle. Blaine cradled his hand.

It was just another scar.

0o0

Wednesday, Blaine wakes up happy. He kisses Kurt at his locker, offers answers in class, babbles about Pink's latest album, and bounces into glee ready to perform. He fidgets in the seat next to Kurt all through Santana's song, and then when Mr. Schue calls his name, he hops up and hurries to the front for his turn.

This is what he loves, almost as much as he loves Kurt. He can lose himself in the song, sing someone else's story and forget his own.

So he nods his head along to the beat as the music starts and sings, "Well, I remember it all very well lookin' back; it was the summer I turned eighteen…"

Mr. Schuester's expression is hilarious. Everyone else looks shocked, and Puck raises a hand to his mouth to keep from laughing.

Blaine sings the entire song, even the 'controversial' verse that makes clear exactly what Fancy was. He ends with a smile, bowing to his audience.

"Um," Mr. Schue says when the music fades away. "Blaine. That was… unexpected."

Blaine grins and goes back to Kurt's side. Kurt stares at him for a moment, lips pursed, but then he shrugs and grabs Blaine's hand.

"I must admit," he says, "you sang a song about a child being sold into prostitution very well."

"Thanks!" Blaine says. Puck slaps him on the back, still silently laughing.

Mr. Schue continues class, but as everyone gets up to leave, he calls, "Blaine, wait a minute."

"I'll see you at lunch," Kurt murmurs as he heads out.

Mr. Schue gives Blaine a long, searching look as he waits for the room to empty. The last is Mercedes, who shoots Blaine a little wave. He blows her a kiss.

"Blaine," Mr. Schuester says. "You performed your song very well. It was a nice show – but that's all it was. A show."

"What?" Blaine asks.

Mr. Schue shakes his head. "The assignment was to say something you want about your relationship with your parents. Everyone else was honest, but you were performing for us."

Blaine blinks, asking, "But… wasn't that the assignment?"

"No, Blaine." Mr. Schue shakes his head again. "You've been doing it all year: putting on a show. All the emotion is an act and you're a consummate performer."

Blaine opens his mouth, but Mr. Schue says, "I've been waiting for something more from you. Even Santana and Lauren showed more honesty than you today."

He hadn't thought of it as lying. He wanted a song that showed endurance. "Fancy was a survivor, Mr. Schue. She overcame everything."

Mr. Schue looks at him. "That was your message? Overcoming parents who may or may not have done their best?" Blaine nods. "That's not the message I got, Blaine."

Blaine goes to say something, but Mr. Schue holds up his hand. "I want honesty from you. Next Monday, you'll sing again. You won't be performing, you won't be putting on a show. Okay? Just you, singing from the heart."

"Yes, Mr. Schuester," Blaine murmurs, walking out without another word.

0o0

Blaine knows that what happened to him after the Sadie Hawkins dance was horrible; he spent four days in the hospital, then a week at home: broken wrist, bruised and cracked ribs, and a fairly bad concussion that left him with a lingering headache. The anti-psychotic medication his mother gave him only made things worse.

Despite the pain, despite the fear, Blaine would take what happened to him over what happened to Kurt. Blaine's bullying was always straightforward – taunts, property damage and defacing, a few shoves, and then the dance. It only happened for a year, after he came out at the beginning of ninth grade. Middle school had been fine.

But Kurt? He was thrown into dumpsters and against lockers and stalked and kissed and threatened with worse – any day of the week, Blaine would take broken ribs over what Karofsky did in those last few weeks before Kurt's transfer.

Two days after they met, after Blaine flirted through song and gave Kurt advice he'd have never worked up the courage to follow himself, Kurt called. Blaine was in class, so he didn't answer. But right after, he called back and said, "Hey, Kurt. What's up?"

Kurt sounded calm. He also sounded brittle. There was a tiny tremor in the words when he said, "Hi, Blaine."

"Kurt, what's wrong?" Blaine demanded, pausing mid-step.

"I know why Karofsky hates me so much," Kurt said, voice small. "I wish… I wish I didn't know, Blaine."

"Kurt, where are you? I'll be there soon, I promise. Are you safe?" Blaine hurried towards the front hall; he didn't even think about going to the office to check out, and he'd just deal with the demerits or reprimand later.

"Blaine, I'm fine. I'm home. But…" Kurt's voice trailed off. "Blaine? Would you… tomorrow? Would you help me talk to him?"

"Kurt, what happened?" Blaine asked, leaning against the wall. "Please, just tell me. I'm really worried here."

The calm shattered; he heard what sounded like a muffled sob and closed his eyes. "Kurt," he said softly.

"He kissed me, Blaine," Kurt said. "I confronted him, and he grabbed my face, and he kissed me."

Blaine's mouth dropped open. "What?" He went to say about a dozen things and finally settled on, "I am so sorry, Kurt. I don't… I'm sorry."

"Yeah," Kurt whispered, voice less shaky. "Me, too."

"I'll be there," Blaine vowed. "Tomorrow. I'll help you."

He straightened up and turned, heading to his room instead of the parking lot. "Tell me your favorite song," he suggested. "Or anything you want. Just talk to me."

"At the moment," Kurt said, laughing slightly, "it's 'Teenage Dream'. Katy Perry's got nothing on you, Blaine."

Blaine chuckled, carrying the conversation forward.

It'd be half a year before he realized he'd fallen in love.

0o0

Blaine doesn't focus on his next two classes. He replays his performance, wondering where he went wrong. He thought he'd done well, but apparently it was a lie. How could it be a lie? He picked a song conveying strength and endurance, overcoming hardship. A story where the child succeeds despite the mother. Where the child ends up at the top.

And Blaine always puts on a show. Loses himself in the music, pretends to be someone else. But Mr. Schue wants something different. Something 'real.' Whatever that means.

"Blaine?" Kurt says as he drops into his chair. "Is something wrong?"

Blaine shrugs, leaning against Kurt, burying his face in Kurt's shoulder. "Mr. Schue called me a liar," he mutters. "I have to sing the truth next week."

"Schue called you what?" Kurt hisses, his arm coming up around Blaine's shoulder.

Sighing, Blaine sits up, glancing into Kurt's eyes before looking away. "A liar," he repeats ignoring everyone at the table: Mercedes, Tina, Artie, and Rachel. "And I am one. Every time I sing, it's not me singing. It's someone else's story. That's why I like singing."

Kurt gapes at him. "Blaine, you're not a liar."

He shrugs. "Compared to everyone else, I am."

"So, what are you singing next week?" Mercedes asks.

"He's not singing anything next week," Kurt snaps. "Because Schue is being unreasonable."

"I don't think he is," Mercedes says. "Blaine, you did a good job… but it wasn't you singing, you know?"

"What are you talking about?" Kurt demands. "He sang like he always does and it was wonderful like it always is."

"Kurt," Blaine says softly, grabbing his hand. "It's okay. I'll come up with a song for Monday, and I'll sing it, and Mr. Schue will either like it or he won't." He shrugs again. "Not much I can do about it."

"But you shouldn't have to," Kurt says, squeezing Blaine's hand.

"I don't want to be a liar, Kurt." Blaine uses his free hand to snag a chip from Kurt's tray since he'd forgotten to grab any food on his way to the table. "So even if I have to write a song, I'll convince Mr. Schuester that I can do more than perform."

Lyrics pop into his head then, so he quickly pulls away from Kurt's hand and grabs the first notebook he touches, jotting down

Your meds don't work for me

My hands are still burning

And my arm, it aches

Shouldn't you love me?

I don't know what's so wrong with me

That you don't

What's so wrong with me?

I'm your son

Your burden

Blaine drops the pen, slamming the notebook shut. No way he could sing that in a room full of people he barely knew, and definitely not in front of anyone he knew well.

He has to find a song. He isn't much of a lyricist, and he simply can't bare so much.

"Blaine," Kurt says.

"Don't worry," Blaine murmurs. "I'll tell you. Next week. After I sing. I'll tell you."

Kurt presses a quick kiss to the side of Blaine's head. "I love you," he whispers.

Puck plops down on Blaine's other side, slinging an arm across his shoulders. "'s'up, dude," he greets Blaine, not sparing anyone else a look. "Tell me about the climax of Jane Eyre." He imbues 'climax' with the dirtiest connotation Blaine has ever heard, leering.

Blaine laughs, settling into his grip, and asks, "How far did you get?"

0o0

Mom played the piano, violin, and cello. Dad knew the drums, though he didn't play anymore. Blaine learned piano basics from his mom, in the golden years before the fire. He taught himself the guitar later.

He never plays the piano in the den. It had been his mother's, moved in from her parents' house, and every time he sat on the bench, he felt her judging him. He was always wanting in her eyes. Blaine knows it was her illness, and not her fault, but that never makes the hurt any less.

0o0

Blaine feels better for his afternoon classes, participating and taking notes. He smiles and jokes, and asks Dave how his day is going when they pass in the hall.

Dave gives him a wide-eyed look, mutters, "Fine," and hurries away.

Kurt meets him as he puts his history book in his locker. "Follow me home?" Kurt murmurs, leaning against the locker and trying to look at Blaine through his lashes.

Blaine laughs. "That'd work better if you weren't three inches taller than me."

Kurt huffs, straightening up to his full height. "Well, fine," he says, attempting a haughty look, but a smile pulls at the corners of his mouth. "I'm glad you're feeling better."

Blaine nods. "I am," he says.

At Kurt's house, he asks, "Wanna help me make cookies?"

"Sure," Blaine says. "I won't be any better than last time, though." Blaine can throw together a meal, but he's not much of a baker.

Kurt smiles, pulling Blaine in for a simple kiss that quickly becomes more complicated.

Twenty minutes pass before they start the dough. Kurt lets Blaine break both the eggs and dump in the chocolate chips. Only half the dough ends up as cookies – the other half is shared between Kurt and Blaine as they cuddle on the couch.

Just before Blaine heads home, Kurt says, "You don't have to sing on Monday, Blaine."

Blaine replies, "Yes, I do."

0o0

The first Halloween Blaine can remember, he went trick-or-treating as Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty. He memorized all the songs from the movie and sang lines from them instead of saying, "Trick or treat!" at every house.

Up until he discovered Pink, 'I Wonder' was his favorite song.

0o0

On Thursday and Friday, Blaine tutors Puck about how to spiff himself up for college admissions and they hammer out where Puck will apply. Blaine also teaches him about critical reading and how to remember all the boring history facts that go in one ear and out the other.

Blaine and Kurt go out for ice cream Friday night, after the Hudmel dinner, and they discuss which Disney prince is the best while sharing a hot fudge sundae.

Blaine ardently defends Phillip, of course. Kurt raises a spirited argument in favor of Eric from The Little Mermaid. Eventually, they decide to concede that Flynn Rider is the coolest, though he isn't an actual prince.

On the way back to Kurt's house, Blaine queues up his Disney playlist and they sing along.

"You do admit Ursula still has the best villain song?" Kurt asks as Blaine walks him to the door.

"Well, of course," Blaine says. "The Shadow Man comes close, and Scar's amazing, but Ursula… she's in a league all her own."

"Good," Kurt says, lacing his fingers together on the back of Blaine's neck and pulling him in.

Blaine's still grinning when he gets back in his car. He hums along to the music but doesn't really listen until he hears, "Me? I'm just your mother – what do I know? I only bathed and changed and nursed you."

"Oh," he breathes, playing the song over. He repeats it all the way home.

Yes. Definitely. He'll sing this song.

0o0

After the fire, Dad trusted Mom less, but still left her and Blaine alone a lot. Mom was actually around less than Dad knew, so Blaine had time to himself. He focused on reading and music, and found the History channel fascinating.

Mom never seemed to realize she did anything wrong. Blaine left her alone as much as he could, but sometimes she wanted to hang out, watch movies or cook with him. The first time she held his hand to a lit candle was when he was nine and refused to watch Psycho with her. (Much later, he'd realize the irony.)

He didn't see Dad for a week, so his hand barely even hurt when he finally told, and Dad didn't believe him. Dad didn't have time to believe him, so Blaine didn't mention anything else for a long while.

0o0

On Saturday, Kurt has plans with Mercedes, Dad's meeting a client for a takeover, and the Warblers are practicing for Sectionals, so Blaine doesn't leave the house. He watches Tangled on his laptop three times in a row, transcribes the lyrics and music to Mother Gothel's villain song, and rearranges it to fit him. A few things need to be dropped and tweaked for it to work, he decides.

He stops for a late lunch/early supper, playing the song on repeat on his phone. It hurts each time through.

After he eats, Blaine plays the music on his guitar without singing the words, then plays it again, humming along. Finally, he sings and plays together. Then, he sings it without music.

Yes. No music. Just him and the shade of his mother.

He goes to bed at nine, turning off the light and texting Kurt I love you.

Blaine dreams about flames and a dance and Kurt. In his dream, the gym is on fire, Kurt's screaming, and Blaine dies trying to reach him.

0o0

On Sunday, a week after Blaine came out to his dad, three days after he came out to his mom, Dad asked, "What happened to your hand?"

"Nothing," Blaine said, covering the hurt one with his other hand and hiding both beneath the table. "I burned myself on the stove."

Dad frowned at him. "Why were you using the stove?"

Blaine looked at Mom. She daintily cut up her Salisbury Steak and didn't even glance his way. "I always cook supper," Blaine said.

Dad put down his fork. "How long have you been cooking, Blaine?" he asked quietly.

"Just… just a few years," Blaine stammered out. "Mom runs errands in the evening, so I throw something simple together." Dad turned his frown on Mom and Blaine panicked because Mom met Dad's gaze and she looked angry. "It's not a big deal!" he said. "I don't mind!"

"Don't give me that look, Robert," Mom said. "I'm busy, you know that. Blaine's a good cook."

"Blaine, "Dad said. "Show me your hand."

He looked at Mom. She smiled; he shuddered, shoved his chair back from the table, and ran upstairs.

0o0

"Finn and the boys are having a wii marathon," Kurt says, sounding annoyed. "I promised to invite you. Would you like to come over and squish mushrooms?"

Blaine laughs. "Don't act like you don't love it," he replies. "Who always pushes everyone off cliffs or into lava pits?"

"Well, fine," Kurt says. "They're just very… loud. I was hoping for a quiet morning, but apparently when there's a day-long Mario game waiting, they're all up at the crack of dawn."

Pushing his cereal around in the bowl, Blaine asks, "Did you have anything in mind for the day? My schedule is wide open until three, when I promised to go listen to the Warblers."

"I hear the Gap is having a sale," Kurt teases.

"Guess I'll be playing Mario, then," Blaine shoots back, letting the spoon fall. "And after we kill everyone off, we can go celebrate in your room." He pauses. "Are your parents home?"

"Nope." Kurt draws the word out, popping the 'p.' "They'll be back from Columbus late. Your dad?"

"A major client had some sort of crisis. He'll be home early tomorrow morning, if he comes home at all." Blaine stands and, leaving the bowl on the table, heads upstairs. "So, Mario or a completely empty house?"

"I have an idea," Kurt says, using his low voice. Blaine really likes that voice. "I'll be there soon."

Blaine's saying, "Kurt, what—" when Kurt hangs up. He pouts at his phone for a minute and then hurries to his room. If he derails Kurt's train of thought with a laughable outfit, it'll suck. He snorts at the thought, muttering, "No pun intended."

0o0

Blaine could hear yelling, when he crept out of his room to go shower. His hand hurt; after he finished, he bandaged it and tried to sneak back to his room, but Mom caught him.

"Blaine," she called. Dad's country playlist filled the first floor, so Blaine barely heard her, but he couldn't pretend he hadn't. He didn't want to trigger a rage.

"Yes, ma'am," he murmured, walking to her. He carefully stayed out of reach. Her smile was gentle and it terrified him.

"You are such a good boy," Mom told him. "The best of all boys. I just wish you were more like me, but there's so much of your father in you. You shouldn't be serious all the time, sweetie." She stepped forward, putting her hands on his shoulders. They were the same height, and had the same eyes, and Blaine felt trapped by her firm grip.

"Mom, I should go to sleep," he said, trying to pull away. Her hands latched onto his right arm. His right hand throbbed.

"Blaine," she murmured, hands tightening. "Blaine, you have to try to be better." She pulled him forward; he jerked back, lost his footing, and his arm twisted. He gasped at the pain, and Mom let him go, and he hit the floor with a muffled thump, cradling his arm against his chest. He looked up at Mom.

He couldn't hide this. He didn't want to hide this. He was so tired.

Mom stalked past him and slammed her bedroom door.

"Dad!" Blaine yelled. "Dad, I need help!"

Blaine scooted backwards until he hit the wall. He let his head thump against it and closed his eyes and tried not to pass out, but his arm really hurt.

He never did remember much more from that night. But when he went home from the hospital, Mom wasn't there. He didn't see her for a week.

Dad made excuses, and she did come home eventually, but Blaine was icily polite, when he acknowledged her at all.

0o0

Kurt's idea involves Elphaba, Fiyero, and 'As Long As You're Mine." There is no fade to black.

After they catch their breath, Blaine serenades Kurt with 'Dancing Through Life,' spinning him around the den, and Kurt absolutely kills 'No Good Deed.'

Kurt collapses on the couch, and he is breathtakingly beautiful. Blaine tells him to wait and hurries to the kitchen to throw together some sandwiches. He hadn't realized just how much time had passed while they reenacted Wicked.

"We should have a soundtrack day in glee," Blaine muses, walking back into the den and sitting next to Kurt, handing him one of the sandwiches. He smiles , watching Kurt inhale it, eating his own in four bites. "Or a theater day. Definitely a Disney day."

"You suggest it," Kurt says, "and I'll second it. Rachel will third it, for sure."

Blaine chuckles. "I doubt Mr. Schuester would go for it, even if Finn was the first to bring it up."

"Yeah," Kurt says. "Saddening though it is." He leans over, tucking his head under Blaine's chin, stretching out on the couch.

A few minutes pass in comfortable silence until Kurt asks quietly, "What will you sing tomorrow?"

"It's a surprise," Blaine says, equally quietly. "And… it'll be as honest and emotional as Schue could ever want."

Kurt sits up, tightening his grip on Blaine's hand. Blaine looks at him for just a moment before averting his glance. He didn't mean to sound that bitter, or that angry. "Blaine, you don't have to sing."

Blaine sits up, too, stroking Kurt's fingers with his own. "Come with me to see the Warblers," he says. "Thad took over for Wes; I'm sure he'd love to hear your thoughts about their performance."

Kurt just looks at him, but Blaine waits in silence. Finally, Kurt lets him have his out and nods. "If you're quite certain I won't be accused of spying."

As they're going out the door, Blaine uses their linked hands to pull Kurt back to face him. "Come home with me tomorrow," he says. "I'll tell you everything."

Nodding again, Kurt embraces him. "Everything will be fine," Kurt promises.

Blaine can only hope.

0o0

Dad seemed far more hesitant to leave Mom in charge after the arm incident. Blaine was just glad he hit a growth spurt and grew three inches so that he was bigger than Mom.

Mom acted better for a few months, long enough for Dad to lower his guard. Not Blaine, though. He'd lived through her good patches before. The plunge she took was always worse than he could imagine.

Blaine asked his friend Marty to the Sadie Hawkins dance. They were both freshmen, gay, and out. He and Marty were just friends, though they'd experimented a little. Marty was a few inches taller than Blaine and interested in science, computers, and special effects.

After the dance, a group of upperclassmen jocks waited in the parking lot. Blaine fared better than Marty because Marty tried fighting back. Blaine just protected his head and middle, trying to survive.

Marty was sent to live with his grandparents in California as soon as he healed enough to fly. Blaine was transferred to Dalton.

But while he was still laid up, Mom gave him her meds instead of his, and he didn't realize that until a day later, after he'd been rushed back to the hospital.

0o0

The Warblers perform well, as always. Their harmonies are pitch-perfect; Kurt offers minor critique that has Thad nodding and promising to consider.

After they leave, Blaine takes Kurt to an early supper at a little-known Italian place. It completely blows Breadstix out of the water and Kurt waxes poetic about his chicken alfredo. Blaine watches Kurt for a minutes as he segues into his mother's cooking and how he can't equal her chicken marsala, though he's tried. "Dad tells me that it's the same, but I can taste the difference," he says. "I've tried, like, half a dozen times. It's not the same."

"You'll get it one day," Blaine assures him. Kurt smiles, reaching across the table to take his hand. That smile gives him the courage to say, "My song tomorrow… it's for my mom. To my mom."

Kurt's smile turns quizzical, but he squeezes Blaine's hand.

"She's… not like your mom was," Blaine adds, staring at their clasped hands.

"Are your parents divorced?" Kurt asks gently.

"No." Blaine shakes his head. He licks his lips, darting a glance at Kurt before looking around for their server. "I want a piece of that fudge cake," he says. "What about you?"

Kurt says, "I'll share yours," stroking Blaine's fingers before pulling his hand back. He waits until the dessert order is in before asking, "Why don't we call soccer 'football' like everyone else?"

It's a blatantly obvious subject change, to a topic he doesn't care about, just so Blaine can think about something else. Every day, Kurt gives Blaine more reasons to love him.

So he explains. They share the cake, split the bill, and Kurt spends the ride back to Blaine's house talking about his latest playwriting attempt: a bullied drama nerd who falls in love with the most popular boy in school and woos him with a baseball game.

"Isn't that the plot of High School Musical 2?" Blaine asks as he pulls into the driveway.

"Not exactly," Kurt says. "There are similarities, though."

Blaine laughs. Kurt leans over to kiss him. "Don't stay here alone tonight," he murmurs into Blaine's mouth. "Dad will understand."

Bringing a hand up to Kurt's face, Blaine shifts his head to rest on Kurt's shoulder, wishing with all his might he could just crawl into Kurt and be safe and warm forever.

"I can't," he says.

He walks Kurt to his car, kisses him goodnight, and trudges into his empty, dark house, up the stairs, and to the bathroom. He showers in water as hot as he can stand, towels off with rough, hard strokes, and trudges into his empty, dark room.

The sun has barely begun to set. He texts Kurt I love you. See you tomorrow. and curls up under the covers.

That night, Blaine dreams of his mother and candles and Kurt turning away because of Blaine's ghosts.

0o0

Mom never came home. Dad told Blaine that she had to stay at the hospital for a little while. Blaine spent a week in bed, only getting up to use the bathroom or grab a new book. He finished his freshmen year as a correspondence student, something his dad arranged, and went to Dalton in the fall.

Blaine washed his hands of his mother during the break between semesters his sophomore year. He didn't tell anyone for a long time (not till Kurt); he only told his father he never wanted to see her again.

(He kept his word – he never even saw her once after that cold, bright winter day.)

0o0

On Monday, Blaine wakes an hour early but stays in bed until his alarm shrieks. He takes a very hot shower and, as he's staring at himself in the mirror, decides to forego his usual hair gel. So he dries off and lets his hair do whatever it wants.

For breakfast, he has applesauce, bacon, and peanut butter toast. He drinks a glass of chocolate milk, texts Kurt a good morning, and calls a goodbye to his dad's bedroom door.

Kurt meets him in McKinley's parking lot, with a soft kiss and big hug. "I like your hair," he says, threading his left hand through it. "It's very bouncy."

Kurt's seen his hair wild before, but it's getting long again, and he usually had other things to focus on. Blaine laughs. "My hair's a mess. That's why I always gel it, ever since Dalton." He smiles at Kurt, letting go of his apprehension, focusing on his boyfriend's voice and eyes and hands.

"Tell me I can sing," he says, stepping in close. Finn and Puck are loitering near, so Blaine ignores everything but Kurt.

And Kurt puts both his hands on Blaine's face, meets his eyes and tells him, "You can sing, Blaine. You will sing. And Schue'll eat his words."

Blaine smiles again. Puck and Finn saunter – well, Puck saunters. Finn stumbles when he tries – over, flanking them. Blaine tucks himself under Kurt's arm and they walk together. Puck asks about literary language, Finn provides half-remembered (and wrong) examples from Rachel, and Kurt sets them straight, asiding to Blaine about silly boys. Blaine just listens, letting the banality calm him.

Kurt believes in him. Kurt doesn't think he's a liar. Kurt loves him.

So Blaine leaves Kurt when the warning bell rings, going to physics. Puck lightly slaps his shoulder as he passes, going to his own physics class.

Two hours until he sings. Blaine takes his notes in those classes longhand, writing down everything his teachers say.

And then he walks into the choir room. Kurt hurries to him, takes his hand, leads him to their chairs. Puck's already sprawled in one, holding Jane Eyre.

Blaine pauses, looking at him. Puck smirks, raising an eyebrow. "Rochester's wife sounds cool. Why isn't the book about her?"

"Because the title is Jane Eyre," Blaine says dryly, sitting next to him. Kurt settles on Blaine's other side.

Kurt says, "There is a book about Rochester's wife. I can't remember what it's called…" He pulls out his iPhone as Mr. Schuester calls them to order.

Blaine's calm vanishes. He takes a deep breath. He wasn't this nervous for his Warbler audition or his New Directions audition or his first day at either school. He wasn't this nervous when he danced with Marty or his appointments with Dr. Fresan.

"Now," Mr. Schuester says, "Blaine will sing for us."

Oh, crap.

Kurt leans in and whispers, "Knock 'em dead, babe."

Yes. It'll be so emotional Schue won't be able to stop weeping.

So Blaine stands and slowly walks down the riser. "No music," he tells Mr. Brad.

He meets Kurt's eyes, then looks past him, back at his seven-year-old, tear-stained face, at his burned hand and broken arm.

"You want to go outside?" he asks. "Oh, my darling, why?" He slows the tempo down, singing the talking parts, injecting a laughing tone, "Look at you, as fragile as a flower. Still a little sapling, just a sprout. You know why we stay up in this tower – that's right: to keep you safe and sound, dear."

Blaine lets his eyes run over all of them. They're listening, but don't know the song yet. It sounds rough. Painful. It is. His heart aches, and he keeps singing, throwing every scar, every bruise and burn, every last tear into the song.

"Guess I always knew this day was coming," he bites out, glancing at Schue and then away. "Knew that soon you'd want to leave the nest. Soon, but not yet. Shh, trust me, pet," he cajoles. "Mother knows best."

This is as honest as he's ever been.

"Mother knows best," he sings softly, gently, then hardening the words to add, "Listen to your mother; it's a scary world out there. Mother knows best. One way or another, something will go wrong, I swear."

The first list is reeled off viciously, Blaine flinging the words like stones, watching with a dark sort of delight as they hit Mr. Schuester. "Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy," he sings, "Quicksand, cannibals, and snakes - the plague! Also, large bugs, men with pointy teeth - and, stop, no more, you'll just upset me."

Gentle again comes, "Mother's right here, Mother will protect you." And then, Blaine infuses the next part with a bitter twist of irony, "Darling, here's what I suggest: Skip the drama, stay with Mama. Mother knows best."

He pauses, picturing Mom's face as he starts the next part softly, working his way up to shouting the last two lines: "Go ahead, get trampled by a rhino. Go ahead, get mugged and left for dead. Me, I'm just your mother, what do I know? I only bathed and changed and nursed you." A deep breath, another glance at Kurt – tears on his cheeks, one hand covering his mouth, the other clenched in a fist.

Blaine sings, almost gently, "Go ahead and leave me, I deserve it. Let me die alone here, be my guest. When it's too late, you'll see, just wait: Mother knows best." Another laugh infused in the words, he's nearly smiling when he continues, "Mother knows best. Take it from your mumsy - On your own you won't survive."

His voice breaks on the second list; only looking at Kurt gives him the push to finish it. "Sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy. Please, they'll eat you up alive. Gullible, naïve, positively grubby, ditzy and a bit... well, vague. Plus I believe you're getting kind of chubby."

He feels Mom's hand on his arm, fire on his palm, and her voice is loud in his mind when he sings, "I'm just saying cause I wuv you." He even uses the cutesy voice from the movie, and it hurts. Of course it does. But he powers through it, and his voice is strong on, "Mother understands, Mother's here to help you - All I have is one request."

The end is so close. A miniscule pause, a quick breath, and he practically screams, "Don't ever ask to leave this tower again."

He's gentle again, murmuring, "Oh, I love you very much, dear. I know you love me more, but I love you the most."

Mom's face, the last time he saw her. The last time he'll ever see her. Wild dark hair, his own eyes – the eyes he sees in the mirror every goddamned day. He finishes softly, with a broken little sigh. "Don't forget it. You'll regret it. Mother knows best."

There are tears on his face. He doesn't look at anyone. He stands there, eyes closed, listening to the silence, and then he spins in place, rushing from the room.

"Wait, Blaine," Schue calls, but Blaine ignores him. He hears Kurt say something, in a cold, low voice, and then he's too far away to hear anything else.

He's in the locker room, the next time he notices where he is, doubled over. And Kurt is standing in the doorway, looking at him. Blaine stands up, arms still wrapped around himself.

"Schue will apologize, the next time he sees you," Kurt says, sounding normal. "I'm here to take you home. We'll cut school for the rest of the day. I think we should go home and watch both Princess Diaries movies and eat ice-cream drowning in chocolate sauce and cuddle."

"That… that sounds nice," Blaine admits, rubbing at his face. "I'm sorry I freaked out."

Kurt gives him the you're so adorable and I love you and you're an idiot but I love you anyway smile. "Don't be sorry, Blaine. You didn't do anything wrong."

Mr. Schue can't say that was acting. Nothing in that song was a performance. Blaine's heart still aches, and his eyes are burning – fuck, he's crying again.

Hurrying over, Kurt says, "Blaine, Blaine, it's okay."

"My mom," Blaine says desperately, unable to keep it in anymore. "She, she's like Gothel, okay? But she's sick, so it's not her fault. It's not her fault, the things she did, the things she said—she's sick. It didn't matter what I did, it was never good enough, but it wasn't her fault." He collapses against the wall, sinking down to the ground. "It wasn't her fault."

"Blaine," Kurt says gently, kneeling next to him. "Blaine, if it wasn't her fault… it wasn't yours, either." He pulls Blaine to him; Blaine is pliant in his grip, letting Kurt arrange him however he likes. Blaine just focuses on Kurt's breath, trying to match it. Slowly, the tears lessen. Finally, the tears stop.

"Take me home," Blaine whispers.

He doesn't even think about his house. He wants Kurt's bed and his soft sheets and the muted colors of his walls, every single decoration and piece of furniture picked with care.

"C'mon," Kurt says, pulling Blaine to his feet on his way up. "Let's go home."

0o0

Blaine's dad is a nice guy. He's always known that. He's still not entirely sure what his dad does – definitely some kind of lawyer, but beyond that? He's asked, but what Dad explained made no sense.

Mom had a job before she had Blaine. She was a baker. She used to talk about teaching Blaine some of her recipes, the ones with secret ingredients.

Needless to say, that didn't exactly work out.

0o0

Blaine spends the night in Kurt's bed. He doesn't leave Kurt's room, not even to use the bathroom. He overhears a hushed, hurried conversation with Mr. Hummel, and then Finn, but Kurt is the only person to go in or out of the room until the next morning.

"Do you want to go to school?" Kurt asks softly, his fingers warm around Blaine's, his lips next to Blaine's ear.

Blaine shakes his head, burrowing further under the blankets, eyes still closed.

"I'll tell Dad," Kurt says, gently pulling away.

A few minutes later, as Blaine's almost asleep, Kurt slips back into bed and pulls him close.

"School?" Blaine mumbles.

Kurt murmurs, "I'm horribly ill. Vomiting everywhere. And what do you know? I'm so contagious my boyfriend's infected, too. Maybe we'll be well enough tomorrow."

Blaine loves this boy. So much.

0o0

Mom has a Bachelor's in music. What she ever intended to do with it, Blaine doesn't know. But she moved to Ohio with Dad, began baking, gave birth to her only child, and suffered some sort of mental break – or maybe, problems she'd always had simply surfaced and Blaine was the only available target.

Dad has a law degree, a seven-days-a-week job, and enough money that paying medical bills and Dalton's tuition was pocket-change.

Blaine has never wanted in a physical sense. His weekly allowance is enough to buy books, music, clothes, and videogames. He has a nice house, a nice car, nice clothes, the newest iPhone, the coolest NOOK. Until he came out, he was fairly well-liked. At Dalton, he was popular. At McKinley, he's a gleek and a fairy (no one has the courage to say worse things in his hearing since Karofsky began protecting Kurt).

Blaine will apply to a dozen colleges on the east and west coasts. He knows that Kurt has his heart set on New York, but they haven't worked up the nerve for that conversation yet.

0o0

Blaine and Kurt crawl out of bed around noon. They shower together; Kurt gently washes Blaine's hair and kisses his shoulder after the conditioner is all out.

"I love you," he whispers into Blaine's skin, pulling Blaine into his arms, chest to back, lacing his fingers on Blaine's stomach.

Blaine turns in his hold, looking up at him. Kurt has tears trailing down his cheeks; Blaine kisses them away.

They go back to bed. Lunch doesn't happen for two more hours.

0o0

The first time he ever saw Kurt, Blaine was running late. He wasn't' nervous about the performance; since his first audition for the Warblers, Blaine felt completely at ease within Dalton's walls. Even competitions and shows performed in Dalton's uniform were no problem.

He is nervous at McKinley. There are no uniforms, no armor beyond Kurt's smile.

It's enough.

0o0

"What did you tell your dad?" Blaine asks while Briar Rose dances with Phillip.

Kurt kisses his hair and says, "That the man I love needed me and nothing would move me from his side."

Blaine burrows further into Kurt. Sometimes he wishes he were the larger one so he could hold Kurt and protect him. More than once, he's wished he were Puck or Finn or even Karofsky's size. But this, being surrounded by Kurt, it is wonderful. He feels safe and warm and so very loved.

"You amaze me," he says. "Every day, it's like I never saw you before."

"You're so silly." Kurt chuckles; Blaine can hear the blush in his voice.

Maleficent stalks across the screen. Blaine sighs – she is his favorite Disney villain. Everything about her is extraordinary. "Her voice," he murmurs. "Sometimes I want to crawl into it so I can be that awesome."

Kurt laughs. "She's Cinderella's stepmom, you know."

"And her voice was awesome then, too," Blaine replies, shifting around to get a better view as Maleficent taunts Phillip. "I wish she had a villain song."

"We should write one," Kurt says. "Surely our voices together are almost as awesome."

"No," Blaine says. "Together our voices are totally awesome, even awesomer than Maleficent's."

A small break for kissing later, Kurt says, "'Awesomer' is a not a word, Blaine."

"Sure it is," Blaine retorts, pulling back so he can stand. He holds out a hand and Kurt gives him the oh, I love you, breathtaking smile as he lets Blaine pull him to his feet. "The definition of 'awesomer' is you," Blaine says, and they dance with Aurora and Phillip until Finn comes home.

Chapter Text

His first semester at Dalton, Blaine Anderson didn’t really make a splash. No one noticed him much; Dalton gets a lot of quiet boys, boys in the process of healing, scarred and scared boys. Blaine was one among many.

David Thompson didn’t register anything special about the kid until the spring auditions. Blaine was clearly the best of the new talent and he sang Pink’s ‘Eventually’ like it had been written specifically for him. In their first decision as the Council, David, Wes, and Thad all voted for Blaine as their lead soloist in the upcoming semester.

Over the summer, David didn’t think any more about the kid.

The Blaine Anderson who walked into Dalton as a junior was a revelation. He was brilliant and kind and threw himself into everything he did. He embraced the Warblers and listened to criticism, always incorporating it into his performances. He was a natural showman; David delighted in watching him.

“Will your parents be coming to the concert?” Thad asked as he, David, and Blaine walked downstairs to prepare for their first performance of the semester.

“Ah, no,” Blaine said. “Dad’s away again and Mom—no.” He hurried ahead, slightly, and Thad looked at David, who shrugged.

David paid more attention after that. Blaine never mentioned his parents, and he answered direct questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He didn’t react like a stereotypically abused child, but he flinched when Wes handed him a lit candle.

A month into the school-year, Blaine was on the phone with his dad, nodding along while flipping through a magazine – Vogue, David saw. Blaine collected the issues; he had at least a year’s worth in the corner of his dorm-room.

“Yes, Dad,” Blaine was saying while David went over his history notes, trying to decide what trick Mr. Foster would put in the essay question of their next test. “Of course I’ll come home this weekend.” And then, out the corner of his eye, David saw Blaine’s hands freeze, the page of the magazine fluttering down.

“No,” Blaine said quietly. “I won’t come if she’s there.” A pause, then just as quietly, “Goodbye, Dad.”

He finished the call, turned off his phone, and set his clasped hands on the table, looking straight ahead. He sat still as a statue while David tried to think of something to say.

Finally, he just asked, “Blaine?”

“I won’t be going home this weekend,” Blaine said, going back to his magazine.

David stared at him for a few moments, until Blaine looked back up with a small, so very fake, smile. “Don’t worry, David,” he said. “My dad’s going see my mom on Saturday.” He shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Is your mom hospitalized somewhere?” David asked.

Blaine laughed. It sounded as bitter as his rendition of ‘Eventually’ had been. “Yes,” he said. “She’s hospitalized somewhere.”

David turned back to his notes. Blaine flipped through Vogue. The whole thing bugged David, but he never did figure out how to bring it up over the next few months, as Blaine settled in as lead soloist and went home no weekends at all. He even talked about it with Wes and Thad once, as they compared notes on what they’d observed about Blaine.

And then Blaine serenaded an endearing spy and it didn’t matter anymore.

Chapter Text

Dave has a thousand questions and internet research is good for only so much. He even calls The Trevor Project twice, but talking to a faceless voice doesn’t really help him.

He wants to talk to Kurt. But Kurt… they’re in a weird limbo, somewhere between acquaintances and friends. And Kurt may have forgiven Dave for last year, and all the years before that, but neither of them has forgotten any of it. Kurt isn’t afraid of him anymore, but Dave is terrified of Kurt.

Dave can admit to himself (and Santana) that he checks out guys fairly regularly, but his go-to fantasy is still Kurt. He still watches Kurt the most. He protects Kurt now instead of hurting him, and he really is trying to move on. Once he’s out of Lima, life will be so much better.

He wants to talk to Kurt, but that’s a bad idea. That’ll just feed his crush, and he’s almost strangled the damn thing, anyway.

Kurt’s boyfriend, though… he tried to help before, after the kiss Dave attempts to pretend he doesn’t remember. The boyfriend is still a do-gooder, and Dave’s seen him watching whenever Dave has to shove a few bullies for being too close to Kurt. The boyfriend usually looks somewhere between wary and proud, like he knows Dave likes Kurt, but he’s doing good anyway.

Of course he knows Dave likes Kurt. He was the third person to ever learn. Still the only other person who knows. (Except Santana.)

Dave wants to talk to Kurt about coming out. Kurt’s dad seems awesome, from the few interactions they’ve had. If he knew what happened last year, beyond a few words Dave didn’t even mean… well. It would be bad.

But Dave can’t talk to Kurt. Not alone.

“Why the fuck not?” Santana demands, throwing down a sub-par breadstick and choosing another. She bites off the end with a satisfied smirk at Dave’s instinctual wince. “You’re not the guy you were, Davo. Kurt would be lucky to get your teddy-bear self.”

Dave chokes on his Coke. “The boyfriend makes him smile so bright, Tana. I’ve never made him smile like that.”

Santana rolls her eyes. “Okay, so Hobbit-brows is good for him, I admit that. They are sickeningly sweet together. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to Kurt, you wuss.”

Dave stares down at his alfredo. “I’m not gonna ask him for help. I can’t.”

With an explosive sigh of utter disappointment, Santana breaks her breadstick in half. “Fine then. Talk to the ex-Warbler.”

So on Monday, Dave gathers his courage. He’s ready to ask the boyfriend –Blaine, Blaine, gotta remember that— to talk. But he never sees Blaine by himself; he’s either with Kurt or a crowd of the gleeks, so Dave goes home annoyed.

Tuesday, though, on the way to second period, Blaine’s on his own. Dave pauses in front of him. For a moment, looking down at the boyfriend’s brown eyes, at his tiny little frame – Dave does think about shoving him again. Beating him to a pulp for daring to be what Kurt wants.

Instead, he asks, “Can we talk after school?”

“I’m going to Kurt’s house,” Blaine says. “But if you want to meet somewhere at lunch?”

“Yeah,” Dave mutters. Better than nothing. “Choir room?”

Blaine nods. “I’ll see you then.”

Dave looks at him for one second longer; he really can’t see whatever Kurt sees. The kid’s a good guy, yeah. Good looking, but not as good as Kurt. Of course, neither is Dave. Fuck it. He walks away, hoping someone asks for a beating, but no one does.

So at lunch, Dave goes to the choir room. He gets there before Blaine and waits a little ways past the door, going over the questions he wants to ask. There are two main contenders: how on Earth did you win Kurt and did your parents look at you the same after you came out?

One of the answers is painfully obvious. There’s a better than fair chance Blaine never tossed Kurt into a dumpster or against a locker or grabbed him in the middle of an argument for a kiss.

The other answer, though, is the one that actually matters.

Blaine walks in. He stops –out of reach, Dave notices— and drops his bag, asking, “How can I help you, Dave?”

He blurts, “How did you come out to your parents?”

“I took a deep breath,” Blaine says, walking to the chairs and sitting down, so fucking smooth and calm. “I remembered that they were my family and loved me. And I thought about how much I was tired of being afraid.”

Dave stalks over and flops down in a chair. “And they didn’t flip?”

“No,” Blaine says. “My dad thanked me for trusting them and finished his steak.”

Looking at his hands, Dave asks. “And… life was easier?” He wants to stop lying. To sit down with his dad like they used to, talking about Dave’s dreams. He’s always wanted out of Lima. Wanted to travel. Before Dave was born, his parents back-packed through Europe and camped in Australia. They had adventures before settling down.

He wants to believe his parents won’t hate him.

“Yeah,” Blaine says. “Two summers ago, Dad even asked me about my type.”

Dave chuckles slightly at that, leaning back in his chair.

“You can wait until college,” Blaine continues. “Only come out when you’re ready, Dave.” He’s so earnest. If they were physically closer, Dave’s fairly certain Blaine would put a hand on his arm, just to show how serious he is.

Dave needs to think. Somewhere quiet, somewhere alone. He knows his parents. He hopes he does. So he nods his thanks and stands, shouldering his booksack. He pauses for a moment, looking down at Kurt’s knight-in-shining-armor. Blaine isn’t chubby, he doesn’t ever seem to sweat, and he probably won’t be bald in his thirties.

He makes Kurt light up with joy.

“Take care of Kurt,” he says and walks out of the room.

He’s quiet for the rest of the day. He sees Kurt once, smiles back when Kurt smiles at him. It’s such a change from this time last year. He likes it.

Practice runs over and for once Dad doesn’t work late, so both his parents are there when he gets home.

He could tell them. He wants to tell them.

Instead he says, “Hey, Dad,” and leans down when Mom kisses his cheek, and pulls out his history book.

Maybe tomorrow.

Chapter Text

 

Dad left when Puck was a kid, before Sarah even started toddling around.  Mom did her best, but she never got over it, and Puck knew it was his fault from the moment Dad stepped out the door, long before Mom told him so.

 

Puck had a history of never being enough.  Dad left, Mom had no trouble telling Puck how much he lacked, and no girl or cougar ever wanted him around after the fact.  He was a Lima loser, born and raised, and there’s still a gaping wound where a little girl should be, but he didn’t have a say about his daughter.  He named her and that’s all he’ll be allowed to do.

 

And, yeah, stealing his mom’s car in an attempt to track Shelby Corcoran down was a stupid fucking move, but calling the cops on him was so uncool.  Less than a month in juvie, and, no, he didn’t learn a lesson, except to not ever get caught again.

 

At McKinley, his rep was going strong because everyone believed his bullshit story about being topdog.

 

He had not been topdog.  One-on-one was fine – he could kick any punk’s ass, and fuck anyone for thinking otherwise.  But the fuckers teamed up against him and he learned how very not tough he was.

 

And then he got back just in time to be completely useless while a douchebag chased out Puck’s very own pet homo.  (And Kurt would fucking kick his ass if he ever learned Puck thought about him like that.) 

 

Finally getting to know Lauren sorta helped with Puck’s post-juvie crisis.   Seeing Kurt’s confidence go back up was even better, because the kid that left McKinley was not the one Puck used to toss into dumpsters.  Kurt had always kept his head high, rattled off some long-winded insult. But Kurt lost that somewhere along the way, and Puck didn’t notice until he was gone.

 

The Kurt that came back was awesome.  Even with his hobbit trailing after him a few months later.  Puck liked the Warbler well enough, and then he was an ex-Warbler, and Puck promised himself (and Finn) that he’d watch out for his two pet homos.  (And he really needs to quit calling them that in his head, because with his luck, he’ll say it out-loud and Kurt will make him regret it forever.)

 

Puck didn’t understand why Karofsky chose Kurt for his favorite target until senior year, when Karofsky began protecting him instead of throwing him against lockers.  All it took was one look after Karofsky body-checked someone and Puck got it.  He thought it over for a few days, and tried to ask Lauren in a roundabout way, and he decided to just ignore it.

 

If Karofsky tried to poach Kurt from the ex-Warbler, then Puck would intervene.  Until then, Kurt seemed to have Karofsky on a leash, and Santana’s claws were still in him, so Puck would let it be.

 

Senior year was full of big decisions.  He thought it was time to stop focusing on being topdog and begin preparing for the rest of his life.  It would suck bigtime if these were the best years of his life, and the only way to keep that from coming true would be getting the fuck out.  College, hopefully.  His father never went to college.  He just played around with the ladies and performed in bars and ran out on his wife and kids.

 

Puck refused to become his father.  He’d have been an awesome dad to Beth, if were his choice.

 

And Kurt and his ex-Warbler went to a smart-kid school, and everyone knew they (and Rachel, but no way will he go to her for help) were bound for somewhere far away and riches and world-wide fame. 

 

He doesn’t want to be famous.  But far away and rich sound pretty fucking good.

 

0o0

 

Puck sees the ex-Warbler and Kurt walking together in the hall.  A hockey player who hasn’t learned his lesson yet is arrowing in on them, slushy in hand, so Puck strolls over and throws his arms across their shoulders, shoving in between them.

 

“’s’up, dudes,” he says.

 

“Nothing, Noah,” Kurt responds, pulling away.  His boy follows.

 

“Listen, Warbler,” Puck says, “you’re smart, right?  Both of ya.  You went to that fancy school.”

 

They’re both quiet for a moment, until the boytoy says, “Yeah, I guess.” He glances at Kurt for help.

 

Kurt rolls his eyes and says flatly, “We’re not doing your homework.”

 

And, yeah, Puck can see where he might think that, but it kinda stings, so he protests, “No, that’s not it.”  

 

His reputation isn’t the most important thing anymore, but he also doesn’t want to lose the protection it affords (both for him and the entire glee club).  So he grabs them – gently, of course – and drags them to the choir room.  He’s surprised Kurt allows it, but he’ll take what he can get. 

 

He has to say everything right.  If he pisses Kurt off, that’s it.  So he thinks over the words and then says softly, “I’ll never get out of this place.” He can’t look at either them, because if he does he’ll lose his nerve.   "I’ve always wanted to, but I know… I’m a Lima loser, and that’s all I’m ever gonna be.”

 

Kurt’s boy, nice guy that he is, says, “Puck, I’m sure that’s not true.”  (And Puck probably should just start calling him Blaine now, since he’s gone and asked for help.)

 

Puck scoffs – he knows better.  He knows exactly what he is.  He might escape the town, but he’ll always have Lima in his blood.

 

Kurt asks, “What do you want from us?”

 

Meeting Blaine’s eyes, then looking at Kurt, Puck says, “Help me find stuff to do to bring up my grades.  Or add stuff to college applications.  Math’ll be easy – I show up for test days and I ace ‘em.  But everything else…”  He shrugs.  Math’s always been fun.  He’s had to prove each year since sixth grade that he’s not cheating, but that’s not hard.

 

There’s no warning before Rachel storms into the room. Finn and Tina follow in her wake, listening to her diatribe with glazed eyes.  Puck leaves Kurt and Blaine without a backwards glance, going to save his boy from Rachel’s fury.

 

He’s made the first move.  He’ll give them a day, max, before seeing what’s up.

 

0o0

 

Puck thought picking out a song for Schue’s latest soul-baring thing would be easy.  He was wrong.

 

He thought Billy Joel’s “Moving Out” might work, but after a second listen, it doesn’t work at all.  He briefly considered Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” for a laugh, just to see the looks on everybody’s faces, but nixed it after a few minutes.

 

Everything he brainstormed up didn’t work.

 

… Kurt always has the perfect song ready for anything at any moment. 

 

Well, now the assignment’s taken care of.

 

0o0

 

On Wednesday, Puck follows Blaine out of Glee and asks, “So?”

 

Blaine glances up at him.  “So what?”

 

Puck sighs heavily and rolls his eyes.  “So, Warbler, have you thought about it?”

 

“Oh,” Blaine says.  “Yes, right.”  He pauses momentarily before adding, “Well, attendance and actually completing homework would help your grades, and your image for potential colleges.”

 

If he wasn’t such a goddamned nice guy, Puck might think that was sarcastic.  Also, it’s terrible advice, so he says, “What?  Dude, school is so boring.  Since I can’t fight anymore, I might as well not come.”

 

Most of that is actually just him dicking around, because he knows that wouldn’t help his plan at escaping at all, but then Blaine stops and swings around, poking Puck in the chest.  Puck freezes in shock, staring down at him.  “The fuck?” he says.

 

“Listen to me,” Blaine hisses, looking a little taller.  “You want out of this cesspool?  Want to make something of yourself?”  Blaine’s hand drops.  “You asked me for advice.  I gave it.  If you want to drown in Lima, keep doing what you’ve been doing.  But me and Kurt?  We’ll be gone.”

 

He turns away and goes to Calculus.

 

Puck watches him stalk away, respecting the little dude.  Puck might be losing some of his edge on the making-all-of-McKinley-fear-him thing these days, but no one smaller than him would ever dare do what Blaine just did.  (Except Kurt.)

 

So, just before the bell rings, Puck slips into his Calculus class for the first time since the last test and stalks to the back, ignoring Blaine.  He collapses into a desk and glares at the room in general.

 

It’s as easy as it’s always been, but he is marked down for attendance, so booyah. 

 

0o0

 

That night, Dad comes home.

 

Puck goes to Finn’s.

 

0o0

 

Mr. Hummel watches Puck go up the stairs.  Just before he turns down the hall, Mr. Hummel calls from the first floor, “You alright, kid?”

 

Damn, but he must look rough.  Mr. Hummel hates his guts.  “Fine, Mr. H,” Puck tells him. 

 

Finn’s on his bed, nodding and “uh-huh”ing into the phone, so he must be talking to Rachel.  But he looks up as Puck walks in, shuts the door, and leans back against it, eyes closed and head ‘thunking’ on the wood.

 

“Gotta go,” Finn says, hanging up.  “Puck, what’s wrong?”

 

Puck just says, “Dad’s back.”

 

Finn just says, “Fuck.”

 

0o0

 

Finn is the only person Puck has ever told the whole story to.  Not even Quinn knows, and she lived in Puck’s house for a few months.  There isn’t a single picture of Dad anywhere.  Mom went through and systematically destroyed them all, in the first few terrible months after he left.  If it weren’t for Puck and Sarah, there’d be no proof Mom ever married him.

 

He wasn’t a terrible person.  He didn’t drink to excess (usually) and he didn’t cheat (that often) and he didn’t hit them (except Puck that one time, and he was kinda being a little shit).  Dad just… got tired of having a family.  So he left.

 

It was easy.  He walked out one day and never came back. 

 

Until tonight.

 

0o0

 

“You okay?” Finn asks, sitting up on his bed.

 

“Yeah,” Puck says.  “Of course I am.  Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

Finn gives him a look he hasn’t seen in over three years, since he fucked everything up royally by fucking Quinn.  “Noah,” Finn says.

 

Puck avoids Finn’s gaze.  “I’ll be okay, Finnegan,” he replies.  “I just… couldn’t stay there tonight.”

 

Finn nods and scoots over, so Puck faceplants onto the bed.

 

0o0

 

In the morning, Puck runs into Kurt coming out of the bathroom and mumbles at him.  Kurt stares at him before saying, “Hello, Noah.”  Puck waves at him and heads on down the stairs.

 

He isn’t hungry, so he leaves. 

 

0o0

 

Puck spends most of Thursday in a daze.  He ignores Finn’s worried glances, barely speaks to Lauren, even when she pauses to watch him with a questioning expression, and wonders what the hell to do now.

 

During his last class, he’s called to Ms. Pillsbury’s office.  “Have a seat, Noah,” she tells him.

 

Her clasped hands are on her desk, along with half a dozen pamphlets he knows can’t help.  His favorite is Daddy Still Loves You, Even Though He Left!  Fucking waste of trees.  “We don’t have enough time today,” she says, “but you should come back tomorrow, Noah.  You’ve been doing good about the roughhousing this year, and I think it would be best to keep it that way.”

 

“Sure, Ms. P,” he mutters. 

 

She smiles brightly.  “Tomorrow afternoon, then.  You’re doing wonderfully in Calculus, so I’ll inform Mrs. Alden you have an appointment with me.”

 

“Whatever you say,” he grumbles.  “Can I go now?”

 

She nods.

 

0o0

 

Finn catches him at his locker, grabbing every one of his books.  “Dude,” Finn says.  “You okay yet?”

 

“I’m fuckin’ golden,” Puck snarls.  “I have to see Pillsbury tomorrow and Dad’s at home and I don’t have a fucking song for fucking glee, and fuck.”   He rests his head against the side of his locker.

 

He’d forgotten to ask Kurt for help.  Because Dad came home.  Fucking bastard.

 

He flinches away from Finn’s hand, when Finn tries to touch his shoulder.  Finn’s hand drops back to his side.  “You can come over again,” he offers.

 

“No, thanks,” Puck says softly.  He glances up in time for Finn’s sad smile, and then Finn walks away.

 

0o0

 

He has to go home, but he really doesn’t want to.  Dad left.  He shouldn’t get the chance to come back, especially not more than a decade after the fact.

 

But he’s there when Puck walks in the door, a backpack full of homework he’s actually going to do, just because it’s that or start a fight.  He’s itching to break someone’s face.  Preferably Dad’s.

 

“Noah!” Mom says from the couch, where she’s sitting with Sarah while Dad stands by the recliner.  “You never called me back.”

 

“Sorry,” he says, eyes on Dad.  “I turned my phone off.”

 

Sarah’s looking at Dad like he’s amazing.  She was so young when he left… But Dad’s looking back at Puck, and he says, “You should apologize to your mother, Noah.”

 

“Fuck you,” Puck spits at him, spinning on his heel and storming out, slamming the door behind him.

 

0o0

 

He goes to Lauren’s.  She doesn’t ask questions, just takes him to bed.  Not for sex, not this time; she just drags him down next to her and holds him.  She hums something he thinks he recognizes from one of her Twilight Saga soundtracks, but they’re both silent until her dad calls her to supper.

 

“C’mon, Puckerman,” she says, pulling him up with her.  “Time to eat.”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Zizes talk about the wrestling championship Lauren’s determined to win.  Lauren goes through a list of each her opponents, rating them on a scale of one to ten: ten could possibly beat her.  One would shatter at a steely glare. 

 

Puck listens, focusing on them to drown out the little boy deep inside him, crying for Daddy to come back.

 

Daddy came back.  That boy died a long time ago.

 

0o0

 

Lauren’s parents don’t say anything when Puck clears off the table and spreads his schoolbooks over it.  “Gonna actually do homework tonight?” Lauren asks. 

 

Puck nods. 

 

She smiles at him and settles on the other side of the table with her laptop.  “Don’t bother me,” she orders.  “I’m making a spreadsheet of all the little boys I have to beat to win.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmurs, opening his physics book.

 

0o0

 

On Friday, Puck is determined to secure Kurt’s help with his song. 

 

So after Kurt totally kills one of those girly Taylor Swift songs he’s heard Sarah playing on repeat, he chases them down the hall.  “Dudes,” he says, “I need help.”

 

“We already established that, Noah, remember?” Kurt asks, digging through his manpurse for something.  “Don’t you have a meeting with Ms. Pillsbury to get to?”

 

“Ah, shit,” Puck groans.  “I totally forgot.”  And how the hell does Kurt know about that?  Fucking Finn.  But that’s not Kurt’s fault, and he needs Kurt’s help, so he reaches out to gently shove Kurt’s shoulder; Kurt looks up with a glare.  “But, seriously, I have no idea which song to do.”

 

Kurt blinks, glances at Blaine, then blinks up at Puck again.  “You… want my help to pick a song about your relationship with your parents?”  Kurt couldn’t sound more disbelieving if Puck suddenly announced he was the long-lost heir of Germany or something.

 

Puck looks at the floor and nods.  After a second, Kurt says, “I assume you’ve already considered and discarded quite a few?”

 

Puck nods again. 

 

“Are you free tomorrow?” Kurt asks.  “You should email me a list of the songs you’ve vetoed, and maybe… would you be comfortable telling me what you want to convey with your final selection?”

 

Puck looks up at Blaine, but Blaine is very pointedly staring at the wall, and Blaine’s already proven he’s a tough little dude. “Never bein’ good enough.  Never bein’ sure what anyone wants, and why I’m not enough.”

 

They’re all quiet for a moment.  When Puck meets Kurt’s gaze, he’s got a comforting sort of smile on his face.  “Come over tomorrow afternoon,” he says.  “We’ll find the perfect song for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Puck mutters, brushing past them.  Halfway down the hall, he spins on his heel, determined to have the last word, and says, “Warbler, homework’s funner than I thought.  School’s still boring, though.”

 

He stalks towards Ms. Pillsbury’s office, scowling so fiercely most of the kids scramble out of his way.  And then Artie rolls up to him, bumping into him to make him slow down.  “What the fuck, dude?” Puck demands, whirling to face him.

 

“Are you okay?” Artie asks.  “You’ve been kinda out of it the past couple days.”

 

“I’m fine,” Puck says.  He walks around Artie, calling over his shoulder, “Later, dude.”

 

0o0

 

Ms. Pillsbury is about as much help as Puck expected.  She’s nice.  She’s sincere.

 

She’s utterly useless, and Puck still wants to break his father’s face.

 

0o0

 

He goes home again.  Mom’s at work, Sarah always goes to her friend Maggie’s on Fridays, and Dad is sitting in the recliner.

 

“Noah,” he says severely as Puck shuts the door.  He stands, crossing his arms. 

 

Dad is still taller, but Puck’s broader now.  Dad looks frail and tired. 

 

“Are you sick?” Puck asks, heading towards his room.

 

“Don’t walk away from me!” Dad shouts.  “I haven’t seen you in ten years and this is how you treat me?”

 

And that – that pisses him off.  “And whose fault is that?” Puck demands, wheeling around to face him.  “At least Finn’s dad had the decency to die – you just decided you didn’t want us anymore!”

 

Dad’s arms drop and he steps forward.  “I was suffocating here,” he shouts.  “Ruth was nagging, and you were such a little attention whore, and the baby wouldn’t stop screaming.  I had to get away.”

 

Puck sucks in a breath, staggering back.  Those words hurt worse than any punch he’s ever taken.  “You fucker,” he murmurs.  “Just… go away.”  He turns, rushing down the hall, locking his door behind him.

 

Dad bangs on the door for a few minutes; then he shouts, “Fine, Noah.  Sulk like the little bitch you are.” 

 

Puck curls up on his bed, wishing he was anywhere else.  Wishing Dad – no, not Dad.  Not anymore and never again.  He hasn’t loved the man since he was the little boy left behind.  The fucker’s name is Micah, so that’s what Puck will call him every day from now on.  And he wishes Micah had never come back.

 

0o0

 

Mom gets home with Sarah, and Micah yells something about ungrateful punks, and Mom yells back that if he doesn’t like it, he should leave, since that’s never stopped him before.   Puck ignores them, typing up the list of all the songs he considered and discarded, sending it to Kurt. Kurt replies within fifteen minutes, telling Puck he has the perfect song in mind, and it’s Pink’s ‘My Vietnam.”

 

Puck sends back, U serios?

 

Kurt responds only, Emails have spell-check, Noah.  As does Word.  Utilize it so as not to look like a heathen.

 

That gets a laugh.  Puck shakes his head and types, I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

0o0

 

Dad’s gone in the morning.  Puck hopes it’s for good.  He yells, “Goin’ to Finn’s, Ma!” and shoulders his backpack and guitar.

 

0o0

 

Carole lets him in with a smile.  “Finn’s still asleep; I think he has plans with Rachel later.”

 

Puck shrugs.  “Can I just set up at your kitchen table?  I’m actually here for Kurt, but we’re not workin’ till later.”

 

“Oh,” she says.  “Well.  I guess so.” 

 

“Thanks, Mrs. H.”  He grins sunnily, and her raised brow tells him she knows it’s fake. 

 

Mr. H is standing by the coffee maker and he watches Puck spread his books all over the table.  “You here to stay?” he asks, pulling a mug out of the cabinet.   

 

“For the day, sir,” Puck answers, glaring at his copy of Jane Eyre.  It’s such a boring book.  They had to read a chapter in English yesterday, and have half the book done for Monday.  He can’t stand it.  Who gives a fuck about Jane?  Not him, that’s who.

 

“Finn’s got plans,” Mr. H says.

 

“I know,” Puck says, flipping through his Calculus book.  Should he do that first, or save it as a reward?  “I’m actually here for Kurt.”

 

“You are, huh,” Mr. H says, and Puck finally registers his tone. 

 

Puck looks up.  Mr. Hummel is staring at him, head tilted, assessing him like he’s a threat.  Puck has never considered that Kurt’s dad knows Puck was one of the ringleaders of his bullying for five years. 

 

Mr. Hummel knows.  And Puck is in his house, needing help from his son.  The son he tormented mostly because he could.

 

Well, fuck.

 

“Dad, it’s fine,” Kurt says, breezing into the kitchen.  “Noah asked me to aid him in a betterment project.”  He smiles at his dad before digging around in the fridge, muttering, “I know I put it in here.  Hmm… there!  Hah, victory.”

 

Mr. Hummel smiles down at his coffee.  Puck hides his smile behind his hand.

 

“You know makeovers are my crack,” Kurt says, setting a Tupperware container on the counter.  “And Noah is full of so much potential…” 

 

“Okay, okay,” Mr. H says.  “I’ll leave the two’a ya to it.”  He grabs his coffee and heads to the den.

 

“Potential?” Puck asks, leaning back in his chair. 

 

Kurt gives him a sincere sunny smile.  “That’s always been true,” he says.  “You just never wanted to reach it before.”

 

Puck looks down at his book, at a loss of words.  Kurt laughs slightly and finishes preparing his snack.  “Would you like something to eat or drink?” he asks after a few minutes.

 

“Nah,” Puck says.  “Not hungry.”  

 

“What are you working on?” Kurt asks, bringing his plate and glass to the table, daintily settling in the chair across from Puck.

 

“Tryin’ to decide,” Puck says, letting his book flip closed.  “I gotta write a paper about the most boring book ever, and do a fifty problem set, and answer twenty questions at the end of the physics chapter, and read a chapter of my history book, and write five paragraphs in Spanish, and pick out a good song.”  He shoots Kurt a glare when Kurt chuckles.  “This is why I didn’t do homework for three years, dude.”

 

Kurt laughs aloud. “Well, I can help with the Spanish and song.  Blaine’s good at history, if that’s giving you any trouble.”  He rolls his eyes.  “If it’s not the history of fashion, I have a harder time caring.” 

 

“If it’s not about World War II,” Puck says, “I have a hard time caring at all.”

 

“Write the Spanish thing while I’m sitting here,” Kurt suggests.  “If you get stuck, I can give you a slight push in the right direction.”

 

So that’s what they do.  It takes about an hour, because Kurt refuses to just give him the answers, or simply write it for him, which would’ve taken all of five minutes.

 

“Now,” Kurt says, “I’ve played around with the music for ‘My Vietnam,’ as well as come up with five alternate songs if you loathe it.  Do some of the math while I set everything up.”

 

Puck nods; Kurt goes back up to his room.  Puck’s finishing up the thirty-sixth problem when Finn stumbles into the kitchen twenty minutes later.  “What’re you doin’ here?” he mutters, collapsing into Kurt’s chair.

 

“Kurt’s helpin’ me,” Puck says, setting his notebook aside and grabbing Jane Eyre.  He flips through it to find where he left off and looks up in time to see Finn fall asleep again, slumped over the table.  He chuckles, trying to power through at least ten pages.

 

After he reads the last word on the tenth page, he drops the book and leaves Finn snoring on the table.  Kurt’s been gone for almost an hour and Puck is honestly curious about which songs Kurt had chosen for him.

 

Kurt’s typing at his desk when Puck walks in; he looks up and his eyes widen.  “Noah!” he says.  “I’m sorry, I got so caught up – Devon just realized Vic is totally in love with him, and there was baseball, and… you don’t care at all, sorry.”  He blushes, turns back to his laptop, and saves the document before closing it.

 

“You know enough about baseball for it to work?” Puck asks, kicking off his shoes so he can climb onto Kurt’s bed without getting ripped a new one.

 

“I know much more about baseball than I do football,” Kurt says.

 

Puck snorts.  “I know more about Spanish than I do French,” he scoffs.  “You know what that means?  I still know shit about either of ‘em.”

 

Kurt waves his hand dismissively.  “This is about your song, Noah, not my play.”  He grabs his iPhone off the desk and queues up the music.  “I arranged this in order of most-suitable to least-suitable.  Just listen and tell me if any resonant with you.”

 

‘My Vietnam’ is first.  Puck has heard the song before; he’s just never listened. 

 

He listens now. 

 

“Yeah,” he says as the next song starts to play.  “I guess that’s it.”  He rubs at his eyes.  “I don’t like the first verse, but that’s the only part.”

 

“Okay,” Kurt says softly.  “Here’s the music, rearranged for just a guitar.  I don’t know…”  He licks his lips.  “Do want any of the band up there with you?”

 

Puck shakes his head.  “It’s about me, right?”  he asks, mostly rhetorical.  “Me and my parents.”  He rolls his eyes.  “My mom.  Deadbeat fuckers don’t count as parents.”

 

Kurt watches him, but doesn’t say a thing.

 

“I’m gonna go do more math,” Puck says.  “After I finish that, I’ll sing the song through, just to see.  That okay?”

 

“Of course,” Kurt says.  “After a few run-throughs, I’ll help you figure out a theme for your Jane Eyre paper.”

 

“Thanks, dude,” Puck mutters and beats it downstairs. 

 

Finn’s working his way through a Digiorno supreme pizza.  Puck asks, “Kurt know you’re eatin’ that?”

 

Finn shrugs.  “It was this or his healthy crap.  I’m too hungry for rabbit food.” 

 

“Whatever, dude.”  Puck dives back into his math.

 

His reputation would be completely gone if anyone knew just how much he enjoys math.

 

After a few minutes of silence, Finn ventures, “Puck?  How’re things with your dad?”

 

Puck doesn’t look up from his notebook.  “I haven’t talked to him.”  Technically, that’s true.  He muttered and he yelled.

 

Finn dissects the last piece of his pizza, thinking so loudly Puck can practically hear him.  “Just ask,” he says wearily.

 

“Do you ever wish he’d stayed?”

 

“I used to,” he admits.  “Until he came back now.  Now I just wish he’d stayed gone.”

 

0o0

 

Puck is incorporating all of Kurt’s comments into his outline for his Jane Eyre paper (his first serious effort on an English assignment since middle school) when the plot for the awesomest sci-fi movie ever occurs to him.

 

“So, if an army of zombies and a fifty-foot mutated man-eating platypus got in a fight, who would win?” Puck asks.

 

Kurt looks up from his iPhone and stares at Puck for almost a minute – Puck counts.  Then he shakes his head and goes back to his music library without answering. “Boys are so weird,” he mutters.  “I don’t understand at all.”

 

Puck snickers.  He stretches and then begins to pack up.  He’s done with math, physics, Spanish, and a good chunk of English.  “I can email you the paper?” he asks.

 

Kurt nods.  “Whenever you’re done, as long as it’s before Tuesday morning.”

 

“Thanks, dude,” Puck says. 

 

He fidgets with his pen for a moment, darting quick glances at Kurt before looking down.  “Just ask, Noah,” Kurt tells him.  “I’ll answer or I won’t.”

 

A week ago, he’d have never asked.  A week ago, Kurt hadn’t taught him to use a dozen naughty words in the same Spanish sentence, all grammatically correct, if physically impossible. 

 

“Last year,” Puck starts, “did Karofsky… did he do anything to you?”

 

“He shoved me into lockers,” Kurt says.  “And threatened to kill me.”

 

“No, Kurt,” Puck says.  “You know what I mean.”

 

Kurt grabs the pen from Puck right before he stabs the table.  “I know what you mean,” Kurt says, twirling the pen between his fingers.  “And I answered you.”

 

Well. 

 

“He did,” Puck growls.  “Fuck.  I just thought he had a homophobic freak out because he finally figured out he liked you, but he actually did something—”

 

“Noah Puckerman,” Kurt says loudly, dropping the pen to touch Puck’s hand.  “If you confront Dave and make him suffer a setback…”  His voice is sharp and hard, and the light touch turns into a tight grip. 

 

Puck looks him in the eye.  “Tell me what he did.”

 

Kurt looks him in the eye right back.  “It doesn’t matter,” Kurt says.  “I forgave him.”  A pause, and then pointedly, “Like I forgave you.”

 

“I never threatened to kill you!” Puck says, jerking back.

 

“No,” Kurt agrees, clasping his hands together and sitting up straight.  “You just threw me in a dumpster at least three times a week for two and a half years.”

 

Puck looks away.  “I never did apologize, did I?”  he asks.  “Not for any of it.”  He laughs humorlessly.  “I’m sorry, Kurt.  For all of it.  You got a bigger pair than anyone I know.”

 

Kurt chuckles, shaking his head.  “I won’t argue with that, Noah.”  He stands.  “I’ll tell Blaine to help you with history.  Don’t forget to write the paper and email it to me before Tuesday.”

 

Puck nods, grabbing his booksack and guitar.  “Thanks, dude,” he says as he heads out.

 

“And Noah,” Kurt says at the door, all levity gone.  Puck turns back.  “Don’t do or say anything to Dave.”

 

“I promise,” Puck says.  “He’s watching your back now.”  He hesitates, and then just decides to say it.  “But if he makes a move, or tries to steal you from Blaine, I will kick his ass, no matter what you say.”

 

Kurt laughs.  “If he does that, Noah, I’ll kick him in the balls.”  He raises a brow, smirking.  “And you’ve seen me kick.”

 

Puck stares at him, reflexively wincing.  “I’m… I’m goin’ now.”

 

Kurt’s laughter follows him to his truck, and the whole way home, he hums ‘Single Ladies,’ no matter which song is playing.

 

0o0

 

Dad doesn’t come back on Sunday.  Puck spends most of the day writing his fucking English paper; he’d settled on going for something you want, no matter how hard it is as his theme.  SparkNotes and Kurt explained what happened later, and how that fit, as long as Puck swore to actually read the whole thing.  He emails Kurt the finished product just before supper; after the tense meal of reheated take-out Chinese, Kurt’s pleasantly surprised reaction is needed.  Puck can hear Kurt’s voice in his head as he reads, Well, Noah, I must say – this is surprisingly good, for a Neanderthal.  I expect this deft language in all aspects of your life now.

 

As he read Kurt’s comments and suggestions, Puck grins.  Five hundred words, two pages: Kurt added two commas, deleted another, and rearranged a single phrase. 

 

You’re like the paper whisperer or something, dude, Puck sent back.  Never wrote like this before you took me under that flashy wing of yours.  He thinks about adding a LOL or misspelling something, then decides not to.  Kurt knows he likes math.  Kurt knows he doesn’t want to be a Lima loser.

 

Kurt knows he’s sorry.

 

He sends the message and goes to watch ‘What Not To Wear’ with Sarah.

 

0o0

 

Monday morning, Mom grabs the pillow out from under Puck’s head and hits him with it, hissing, “He’s gone again.  I hope you’re happy, Noah.  Why are you always so selfish?”

 

Puck doesn’t say a thing.  Not even when she adds, “Just like last time!  Why aren’t you better?”  He swallows, biting his lip, and averts his eyes, trying with all his might to head off the tears.

 

Mom drops the pillow and stumbles out.  Puck clenches the sheet in his hands and breathes deeply, in and out, until he doesn’t want to scream anymore.  Then he rolls out of bed, dresses, and leaves the house without grabbing breakfast.  He barely pauses to snatch up his guitar and booksack.  Sarah can catch the bus or nag Mom to take her to school – Puck can’t be trusted right now.  He’s so pissed off, so hurt.  He doesn’t want to do or say anything to Sarah about this. 

 

So he goes to school.  He turns in his completed work in the classes when its due.  He only speaks when spoken to.  He breaks Rachel’s stalker’s camera and microphone, sits in silence with Ms. Pillsbury for half an hour, and steals half of Artie’s lunch. 

 

Lauren asks him why he never called over the weekend.   “Oh,” he says.  “I totally forgot to turn my phone back on.”  He digs into the bottom of his backpack, grabbing it, and when he tries, it won’t work.  “Oops,” he mutters.  “Fuckin’ thing is dead.”

 

She shrugs.  “Feed it when you get home, Puckerman.  I don’t like my man bein’ out of contact.”

 

He nods, shoving it back into the bag.

 

0o0

 

Puck hasn’t been this nervous about a performance since… ever.  He slouches into glee and goes straight to Kurt and Blaine, sitting in their usual spot, the left corner, top row.  Puck plops next to Kurt, slouching down, crossing his arms, and glaring.  “Stop sulking,” Kurt tells him.  “Be the badass I know you are.  You’ll kill the song.”

 

Puck doesn’t say anything; Kurt turns to Blaine and asks about a math principle.  Blaine explains it wrong, so Puck leans across Kurt to tell Blaine, “You’re so very fuckin’ wrong, dude.”

 

Kurt grins and Puck realizes that was the whole point, so he rolls his eyes, while Blaine smiles at them both.

 

“Now,” Mr. Schue says, “we have five performances left, so let’s get started.”

 

Mercedes goes first, singing some song about dancing with her father.  Her voice is loud and beautiful, like always.  All the song does is make him jealous.

 

“Mercedes, that was truly awesome,” Mr. Schue says.  “Puck, you’re up next.”

 

Puck freezes.  He’s never frozen before, and he doesn’t know what to do.  Kurt elbows him so he lunges to his feet and marches to the front of the room, carefully grabbing his guitar from its stand.  "I don’t want to talk about it,” he mutters, and then he starts to play.

 

He starts out soft, singing lines he doesn’t believe in, that he never experienced: “Daddy was a soldier; he taught me about freedom, peace, and all the great things that we take advantage of.”  Micah didn’t teach him shit.  Nothing except what not to do.  “Once I fed the homeless.  I'll never forget the look upon their faces as I treated them with respect.” 

 

His voice gains strength the further he goes.  “And this is my Vietnam. I'm at war. Life keeps on dropping bombs and I keep score.”  He adds a bitter twist to, “Momma was a lunatic; she liked to push my buttons. She said I wasn't good enough, but I guess I wasn't trying.”  That’s not quite true; he tried all the time, up until the day he decided he just couldn’t care anymore.

 

The next part is just so true, but he knows maybe three people in the room will believe him (hell, last year, Artie offered to tutor him in geometry.  That gave him a good laugh.) “Never liked school that much. They tried to teach me better, but I just wasn't hearing it because I thought I was already pretty clever.” 

He uses the repeated chorus to ready himself for the most honest part, for the verse that is the reason Kurt (and Blaine, who apparently suggested it to Kurt) chose this song: “And this is my Vietnam. I'm at war. Life keeps on dropping bombs and I keep score.  This is my Vietnam. I'm at war. They keep on dropping bombs and I keep score.”

 

He finally looks up from the guitar, his eyes going from Schue’s shocked expression to Finn’s sad eyes, to Kurt and Blaine, holding hands and gently smiling at him.  He takes strength from that and demands, “What do you expect from me? What am I not giving you? What could I do for you to make me okay in your eyes?”

 

Puck lets his voice go gentler, softer, as he ends.  “This is my Vietnam. I'm at war. They keep on dropping bombs and I keep score.  This is my Vietnam. I'm at war. Life keeps on dropping bombs and I keep score.  This is my Vietnam.  This is my Vietnam.” 

 

After he finishes, Puck gently puts his guitar back, ignoring the enthusiastic cheering after a moment of shocked silence, and stalks up the riser to sit by Kurt again.  “It was amazing,” Kurt tells him, Blaine nodding along.

 

“It was an emo chick song,” Puck grumbles, crossing his arms.  “Can’t believe you talked me into it.”  

 

“Well,” Mr. Schuster says.  “Puck, wow.”  

 

Puck ignores him, trying not to admit, even to himself, that he feels better.  Who gives a fuck what his mom thinks?  Micah left, and that’s on nobody but Micah.  And none of it was ever Puck’s fault.  He was a kid.

 

He’ll never be the son his mom wanted.  But he can become a man he’s proud of, a man who will one day be a good father.

 

He’s getting the fuck out of this town, and he’ll come back for Sarah, and for Finn.  He looks over at Finn while Tina sings another song about a father.  Finn meets his eyes, smiling.  Good job, Finn mouths.

 

Kurt elbows Puck gently and leans up to whisper, “I expect you to finish Jane Eyre by this weekend.”

 

“I hate that book,” he mutters back, smirking at Rachel’s glare and shushing motion.

 

Tina finishes to applause and an enthusiastic kiss from her boyfriend.  Schue lets them go, so Puck heads for Lauren and links their arms.  “’s’up, babe?” he asks.

 

She gives him a long, searching look.  He stands still, letting her.  He’s been a crappy boyfriend for a week now, and it is about time he told her why.

 

“You’re comin’ over tonight,” she says.  “And we’re talking, Puckerman.” 

 

“Yeah,” he says.  “I think… I think I do wanna talk about it.”

 

He heard somewhere once – maybe a movie, or a magazine, or, hell, a fortune cookie – that the past determines the future.  Maybe it’s true. He doesn’t want a life anything like either of his parents’.   He’s getting out and going far away, and he’ll do his best to get Sarah out, too.

 

Lauren pulls him into a kiss; Puck tries to put everything he feels for her into it, because she is the awesomest chick he’s ever known.  She can keep up with him, and she challenges him, and she never takes his crap. 

 

Schue clears his throat.  Lauren chuckles and leads Puck from the room.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

“Our songs should complement each other,” Rachel decides as she pulls up her Family playlist, sub-genre Parents.  “Don’t you agree?”

 

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Finn says.  The only song he’s ever chosen completely on his own was ‘Jesse’s Girl’ and that was obvious.  It’s easier when other people help him.  His usual choice for outside advice is Kurt, but Rachel is really good, too.  She knows a lot of songs, and while she doesn’t always pick songs perfect for his voice, most of the time she does.

 

He stretches out on her bed, listening to her murmur as she scrolls through the playlist.  “Yes, yes,” she says.  “Perfect.  My dads are the only ones who truly appreciate my talent and I will honor them for it.”

 

“I appreciate you,” Finn says.  “So does Mr. Schue.”

 

“Of course you do,” she says quickly.  “But for a long time, my dads were alone in that regard.”  She makes a note on a post-it.  “Now, that my song is chosen – Finn.  What would you like to say to your parents?”

 

Finn stares at the ceiling.  (Rachel has star stickers that glow in the dark.  They’re awesome.)  He thinks about his mom and Burt and the assignment.  “Didn’t Mr. Schue say we could sing about our parents, not just for them?”

 

Rachel flips through her notebook as Finn looks over.  “Yes,” she says.  “Any aspect of your relationship can be fodder for your song.”

 

“I wanna sing about my dad,” Finn tells her.  “I didn’t know him, but he’s so important, you know?  He was a hero and he died so that kids can sing about whatever they want, and I want to sing about him.”

 

She’s staring at him.  “What?” he asks.

 

“That was so inspiring, Finn!” she exclaims, hurrying over to sit by him.  “Such a lovely speech deserves a kiss,” she murmurs, and leans down.

 

Well.  He reaches up to cradle her face and focuses on the mailman so he doesn’t ruin things.

 

0o0

 

“We should focus on Disney songs,” Rachel says awhile later.  “To match my Disney song.”

 

“Which song did you pick?” he asks, lazily running his fingers through her hair.

 

“‘Baby Mine’ from Dumbo,” she murmurs, moving into his touch.  “It’s heartbreaking.  The entire club will be moved to tears.”

 

“Don’t know it,” he says, and she immediately sits up, looking at him with horror.

 

“Finn!  We must rectify that right this minute.”  She grabs his hand and tugs.  “Now!”

 

He’s so comfortable, but now she’s giving him the puppy-eyes.  He rolls out of the bed and waits; she quickly darts into the hall.   Finn follows her to the rec room, where her DVD player is set up.  He throws himself onto the love seat as she quickly goes to the Disney section and plucks one of the movies off the shelf. 

 

Dumbo,” she says, “is an integral part of any child’s development.  It teaches that greatness is always within and can be reached, no matter what outside authorities declare.”  She puts the DVD in the player and curls up next to Finn.

 

0o0

 

He sobs.  He sobs so hard. 

 

Rachel rubs his back and whispers, “It’s okay, it’ll be okay.”

 

“But she’s in jail!” he blubbers.  “And he’s just a baby!”

 

“Shh, shh,” Rachel says, pulling his face down to rest against her neck.  “Finn.”  She sounds hesitant, and sorry.  “We can stop watching, if you want.”

 

“No,” he says, pulling back to wipe at his eyes.  “I wanna seen them reunite.” 

 

“Okay.”  She nods firmly, turns back to the TV, and hits play.

 

0o0

 

Finn is useless for the rest of the night.  Rachel promises to find him the perfect song and kisses him goodnight.  He drives home in a haze, caught somewhere between wanting to bawl again and wanting to tuck Rachel into his arms, just to hold her.  He stumbles into the house, nearly tripping over Burt’s boots, and Mom is sitting in Burt’s chair, reading The Help. 

 

She says, “Have fun at Rachel’s?” before looking up.  “Hon, you okay?” she asks, setting the book aside. 

 

He nods, hurrying over to her.  She stands, so he pulls her into a massive hug, the kind he hasn’t given her in awhile.  He just holds her for a few moments.  “Finn,” she says softly.  “Are you okay?”

 

He pulls back, nodding again.  “I love you,” he says.  “You know that, right?”

 

“Of course I do, sweetie.”  She grabs his hand, going up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

 

 Kurt or Burt is rummaging around in the kitchen.  Finn heads that way after he gives Mom another hug.

 

Kurt looks up from a pan of brownies and says, “Finn, what’s wrong?”

 

He shrugs, leaning against the counter.  “I watched Dumbo with Rachel,” he says.

 Wincing, Kurt says, “Oh, Finn.” He cuts another brownie out of the pan and walks over, offering it to Finn. “The first time I watched that movie after my mom died, Dad had to carry me to his bed because I was crying too hard to sleep by myself.”

 

“I never saw it before,” Finn says, nibbling at the brownie.  “I mean, I knew about the flying elephant, but, shit, dude.”

 

“Yeah,” Kurt says with a sigh.  His phone rings, playing a Taylor Swift song.  It’s the one about Juliet and scarlet letters.  Finn would never have guessed Kurt liked Taylor Swift.  (Mom has a thing for Taylor Swift, and Taylor Swift has legs all the way to here, and shut up.)

 

Finn raises a brow at Kurt.  He blushes, but answers, “Hey, Blaine,” and sidles out of the room, trying to look he isn’t running away.  Finn chuckles, moving over to the brownie pan.

 

Crying like a baby is hard work.  He needs chocolate to replenish his energy.

 

0o0

 

Wednesday morning, Finn wakes up an hour and a half before Burt bangs on his door.  Mom’s on the early schedule right now, so Burt is Finn’s alarm clock, getting him up with twenty minutes to spare.

 

He stares at the ceiling, wishing he had stars like Rachel.  He wonders what song she picked out, and if it’d be wimpy to never ever watch Dumbo again.

 

Seriously.  Disney clearly has a thing against parents.  They’re always dead or locked up or just gone

 

(He dreamed about Mom being in jail and Burt missing and Dad dying, and no matter how he looked, he couldn’t find Kurt, even though he knew Kurt could make everything better.)

 

Finn knows he won’t be falling asleep again, so he goes to take a shower.

 

0o0

 

When they meet in the parking lot, Rachel kisses him, holds his hand, and says, “You’ll be singing ‘He Lives In You’ from the second Lion King movie.  Puck, Sam, and Artie will be singing back-up, though I think it best if you approach them to make sure.”

 

“Okay,” he says.

 

She hands him her iPhone, with the song ready to go.  He listens, nodding along. 

 

It’s perfect.  So he says, “It’s perfect,” smiling as she beams at him.

 

0o0

 

Finn asks Puck, Sam, and Artie to meet him in the choir room at lunch. 

 

“’s’up, dude?” Puck says at the same time Artie announces, “Wheels in the house, yo!”  Sam follows behind them, a half-eaten sandwich in his hand.

 

“I need help with my song,” Finn tells them.  “Listen.”

 

They do.  Puck clearly wants to say something, but he keeps whatever it is inside and Finn thinks they might, almost, be what they used to be.

 

Artie says, “It’s doable.  We can start setting it up now, but we do have football today.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Finn says.  “But you’re all with me?”

 

“Yeah,” Sam says.  Puck nods.

 

Artie and Puck confer.  Artie says, “Play it again,” and they get to work.

 

0o0

 

At glee, Quinn, Mike, and Artie perform their songs.  Quinn’s is about disappointing her family and not being a good daughter; it sounds vaguely familiar and Rachel mutters about stealing a theme.  Finn applauds when she’s done, and Quinn smiles at him before going sit by Mercedes. 

 

Rachel drags Finn out of glee by the hand, giving him more details about their performances the next day, and Finn listens, nodding.  When she actually pauses, looking up at him with an expectant expression, Finn says, “Sounds good, Rach.” 

 

She stays quiet, smiling, so something else is expected.  He thinks for a minute.  “I’ll come by after football for more practice?” he tries. 

 

“I spoke to Artie,” she says.  “You, Sam, and Puck will go there after football.”

 

“Okay,” he agrees.

 

0o0

 

They practice twice, then talk for a few minutes about Mr. Schue’s diary-entry assignments.  Finn thanks them again before heading out.

 

He scarfs down the ‘healthy’ dinner Kurt made, then dips into his stash of good stuff.  He goes up to his room to read through Jane Eyre, the most boring book ever, but he’s only halfway through the first chapter (and he should be halfway through the whole book, if Kurt is to be believed) when Rachel calls for a status update.  

 

After he dutifully reports what happened that evening, Rachel is off on a tangent about New York (future New York, not Nationals New York).  He drops his book onto the bed and stretches out, “uh-huhing” every few sentences.  Rachel doesn’t really need his input; she just likes someone to listen.  He’s good at that.

 

They’re twenty minutes into the conversation when Puck walks in, shuts the door, and leans back against it, eyes closed and head ‘thunking’ on the wood.

 

The last time Puck did anything like it, they were in seventh grade and Puck had just lost his virginity to Ms. Ravers.  He never came right out and said it, but Finn has always believed Puck didn’t really want it and just wasn’t sure how to say no.  (Finn’s still pretty sure he doesn’t know how, when it comes to a woman.)

 

Something terrible has happened, so Finn tells Rachel, “Gotta go,” and hangs up.  “Puck, what’s wrong?”

 

Without opening his eyes, Puck says “Dad’s back.”

 

Finn says, “Fuck.”  Then he sits up and asks, “You okay?”

 

 “Yeah,” Puck lies.  “Of course I am.  Why wouldn’t I be?”  Like Finn’s such a horrible friend he wouldn’t know the difference.

 

So Finn just gives him a version of Kurt’s epic bitch, please look and says, “Noah.”

 

Puck avoids Finn’s gaze.  “I’ll be okay, Finnegan,” he says.  Finn thinks that might even be true.  “I just… couldn’t stay there tonight.”

 

Finn nods, because what else can he do?  Puck won’t accept anything else.  So he scoots over, and Puck faceplants onto the bed.

 

0o0

 

Puck’s gone when Finn gets up the next morning.  Kurt pushes him back into his room when he tries to leave and asks in a whisper, “What’s wrong with Noah?”

 

Puck would not want Kurt to know.  He wouldn’t want anyone to know.  But Finn’s not a dumb kid anymore and he knows when he’s out of depth.  Kurt’s the kind of smart that frightens Finn sometimes, so he says, “Puck’s dad came home.”

 

Kurt blinks at him, lips pursed.  “Oh.”  A moment passes.  “That’s bad, I take it?”

 

“Yeah,” Finn says.  “I just… I can’t make it better.  I never could.”

 

“Oh, Finn,” Kurt murmurs.  He reaches out to pat Finn’s shoulder.  “Noah will be fine, I promise.  Just be there for him.  Listen to him.”

 

“I guess,” Finn says, slightly disappointed.  He’d hoped for better advice.  Like, maybe Kurt could plan an attack on Micah Puckerman and Finn would carry it out. 

 

He thinks about suggesting that for a second, and then Burt calls, “Boys!  Breakfast!” so he tables it for later.

 

0o0

 

Finn can’t think about anything but Puck right up until glee.  He has to perform after Zizes and he realizes, as he’s meeting Puck, Artie, and Sam at the front, that he’s about to sing about missing his dad.  Puck is going to sing back-up about him missing his dad

 

It’s like irony, or something.  A sick sort of irony.  He feels really bad about it, and he tries to meet Puck’s eyes, to signal he doesn’t have to, but Puck just grabs his guitar and nods. 

 

Artie starts with the non-English part.  Finn sings, “Night and the spirit of life calling,” and then Puck and Sam sing the next non-English parts.  Finn’s voice soars with, “Wait!  There’s no mountain too great.”

 

Artie sings the back-up part; Finn continues, “Hear the words and have faith,” while Puck sings not-English, and then “Have faith,” with Sam’s voice behind him.

 

Artie sings the non-English by himself for a moment, and then his voice blends with Puck’s and Sam’s as Finn gets into the chorus.  “He lives in you.  He lives in me. He watches over everything we see.  Into the water, into the truth - in your reflection, he lives in you.”

 

Puck, Sam, and Artie sing the repeating not-English, and then Puck has a guitar solo, until Finn gets the chorus again, their voices loud behind him.  “He lives in you.  He lives in me. He watches over everything we see.  Into the water, into the truth - in your reflection, he lives in you.” 

 

Artie finishes them out with the non-English and Finn is exhilarated.  He smiles brightly at Sam and Artie, but when he looks at Puck, his grin falters.

 

Puck just smirks his lying smirk at him.  “Disney, bro,” he says.  “Really?”

 

It’s a mask.  A mask Finn really doesn’t like, but it’s Rachel’s turn, now, so they sit down.   And he really does want to listen to her, because he always wants to listen to her, but then he starts thinking about all the baby animals and Mama Dumbo being in elephant jail, and he bites down hard on his lip, because now he wants to cry again, but he’s at school—and Rachel’s done.  Thank Grilled Cheesus.

 

He cheers, of course.  He’s not stupid.  And the bell rings, Puck’s first out the door and Rachel grabs Finn’s hand before he can follow. 

 

0o0

 

Finn doesn’t see Puck again until that afternoon, right before it’s time to go home.  It looks like Puck’s shoving every one of his books into his bag. 

 

“Dude,” he asks.  “You okay yet?”

 

“I’m fuckin’ golden,” Puck snarls.  “I have to see Pillsbury tomorrow and Dad’s at home and I don’t have a fucking song for fucking glee, and fuck.”   He rests his head against the side of his locker.

 

Finn reaches out, trying to comfort him, but Puck flinches away so Finn lets his hand drop.  He has no idea what to do, so he offers, “You can come over again.”

 

Puck doesn’t even look at him as he says, “No, thanks,” and gives Finn a sad smile.

 

He needs to find Kurt, so Kurt can make a plan, so he leaves Puck at his locker.

 

0o0

 

“Finn,” Kurt says severely after Finn spills everything.  “We will not assault Noah’s father.”

 

“He deserves it!” Finn protests.  “He just left, and now he’s back like nothing’s wrong, and Puck’s mom is mean.”

 

“And if we hurt him, what then?” Kurt asks, giving Finn one of those looks of his.  It says, I know you’re smarter than this and think about it, Finnegan Hudson, and I’m so ashamed our parents married so I have to live with you now.  It’s a very busy look.  “At the least, we’ll go to juvie.  Think about our parents.  Think about Noah, for heaven’s sake.” 

 

Finn pouts at him.

 

0o0

 

Puck ignores Finn on Friday.  Since Finn still isn’t sure how to deal, he sticks close to Rachel.  They make plans for Saturday afternoon (Rachel will help him with Jane Eyre, then he’ll take her to a movie and dinner) and Rachel talks about future New York some more. 

 

Finn only tunes into glee when Kurt sings the Taylor Swift song about hanging out with parents.  He stifles a laugh with his fist; Kurt’s Taylor Swift thing must be getting out of control if he’s performing her stuff in front of people.  He does a good job, though.  Finn cheers loudly when he’s done, but Kurt’s only got eyes for Blaine.

 

0o0

 

He doesn’t think about Puck at all until he stumbles into the kitchen at noon on Saturday and Puck’s sitting at the table, books spread to kingdom come.

 

“What’re you doin’ here?” he mutters, collapsing into an empty chair.

 

“Kurt’s helpin’ me,” Puck says, but Finn’s still mostly asleep, so he lays his head on the table.  When he wakes up again, it’s after one and he’s hungry, so he digs around in the fridge ‘til he finds his pizza.  He pulls it out and grabs a coke, leaning against the counter so he doesn’t get anything on Puck’s stuff.

 

Puck ambles back in, looks at him, and asks, “Kurt know you’re eatin’ that?”

 

Finn shrugs.  “It was this or his healthy crap.  I’m too hungry for rabbit food.” 

 

“Whatever, dude.”  Puck goes back to the table and slouches into his chair, focusing on math.  (Finn’s never told anyone how good Puck is at math.  No one would believe him, anyway.)

 

After two more slices of pizza, Finn can’t help himself. “Puck?  How’re things with your dad?”

 

Puck doesn’t look up from his notebook.  “I haven’t talked to him.” 

 

Finn dissects the last piece of his pizza, trying to find the words.

 

 “Just ask,” Puck says, sounding tired.

 

“Do you ever wish he’d stayed?” Finn doesn’t look at him.  Doesn’t breathe.

 

“I used to,” Puck says softly, in the same tone he talked about Beth during their one discussion about her.  “Until he came back.  Now I just wish he’d stayed gone.”

 

Finn lets him get back to work.  He needs to shower anyway.  Rachel’s expecting him for two o’clock

 

0o0

 

Finn’s dad died way before Finn could remember him.  Mom struggled over the years, but she did a good job with him.

 

Noah used to look at Mom like he wanted to keep her, and not in the creepy way with his cougars.  He made up stories about his dad, about how he was famous and would come back to save them with all his money.  The stories stopped in fifth grade, when Noah became Puck.  Finn’s stories about his hero dad coming home stopped the next year, when Puck told him only babies dreamed about could-have-been.

 

0o0

 

When Rachel asks, “What’s wrong, Finn?” he honestly thinks about lying.  About saying, Nothin’, Rach, just a weird dream last night, or My lunch must’a been bad

 

Instead, he says, “If you had a friend who needed help, but there literally wasn’t a thing you could do, what would’ya do?”

 

She frowns.  “You mean, if you couldn’t ask an authority figure for help, or offer your time and money to make things better?”

 

Finn shakes his head.  “I mean, like, the friend’s almost eighteen and never planned to stay around anyway.  But, back when you were kids, and the problem seemed like it had gotten better, but then one day, out of the clear blue sky, it walked right back into your friend’s life.  And you tried to comfort him, but he just kept shruggin’ you off and ignorin’ you, and telling adults wouldn’t help, because, it’s not like your friend is abused or something.”  (Finn honestly isn’t sure about that.  But Puck’s almost eighteen and it’s too late, if he ever was.)

 

Her eyes widen.  “You mean Puck.  I heard the other glocks talking about him – he’s been testier than usual lately.”

 

Finn looks down.  Rachel’s touch is gentle, her fingers on his face.  “You can’t do anything but what you have been,” she says.  “Be there for him.  Offer him haven when he needs it.  Let him know you care and will always listen.”

 

“Okay,” Finn breathes, pulling her into his arms.  “I love you, Rach.”

 

“I love you, too, Finn,” she says.

 

0o0

 

Finn knows he’s not going to New York like Rachel, Blaine, and Kurt.  He knows he’s not getting out of Lima like Mercedes, Artie, and Puck.  He’ll stay home and go to community college and figure out how to work on a car without killing it.  He’ll take over Burt’s shop while Kurt’s off ruling the fashion world, and he’ll marry a nice girl, and they’ll have kids. 

 He won’t be a Lima loser, because Burt isn’t one, even though he never left. Burt is what he pictures, when he thinks about his father. Burt and Mom, they’ve lived in Lima their whole lives. They’re happy.

 

Finn loves Rachel.  He believes she loves him.  But she’s going to New York, and he isn’t, and he kisses her too fiercely, he holds her too tight, and he won’t stand in her way, after they graduate.

 

0o0

 

On Sunday, Kurt and Blaine have an all-day date planned.  Rachel has something going on with her dads, so Finn asks Burt to give him a lesson about cars.

 

“You sure, kid?” Burt asks, looking over from a Deadliest Catch marathon.  “You don’t wanna do somethin’  fun with your friends?”

 

“I know I’m not as good as Kurt,” he says.  “And I don’t expect to be.  But I’d like to learn, sir.” 

 

“Well, okay,” Burt says, turning off the TV.

 

0o0

 

The first time Finn ever calls Burt ‘Dad’ is that afternoon, but not the last.

Chapter Text

Jerry Cohen-Chang – advertising
Alicia Cohen-Chang – writes advice column
Tonya Cohen-Chang – troubled child

Tina faked stutter, quiet childhood, easy and compliant; dresses loudly to hide shyness; adopted; sister adopted (not blood-related); learns point because sister hates music; enjoys singing but not her passion – she likes to write and has three novels she never talks about; dated Artie because he was funny and nice, but started trying to change her and taking her for granted so she broke up with him at the end of sophomore year and started dating Mike over the summer; still together in senior year

.

Tina’s older sister was always in trouble. She was loud, mean, and obnoxious. It was easy to vanish in her wake. Tonya was the first person to tell Tina she was adopted – Tina was seven and Tonya yelled it in her face, laughing.

Of course, Tonya was adopted, too. Mom sat Tina down that night and told her how she and Dad had lovingly chosen their two beautiful girls out of all the babies in the world.

Dad was away on business. Like always.

0o0

Dad had clients in every major company in the lower forty-eight. He was gone for the better of the year, but he made a hundred dollars an hour so Mom didn’t really complain.

Mom wrote an advice column for Lima’s newspaper. She also had a blog about household hints.

Tonya was such a hard child that Mom let Tina do whatever she wanted. What Tina wanted was to read quietly and come up with her own adventures. Scribbled quickly in code so Tonya couldn’t steal them.

Tonya stole everything. That’s why, when Tina was twelve, Mom sent Tonya away.

Tina swore to herself and Mom that she would never be such trouble.

0o0

She began stuttering in sixth grade. Her clothes were loud so she didn’t have to be. She faded into the background at school and Mom focused on writing for more newspapers; she was in talks for a TV show about her blog.

Dad came home, stayed a week, and left. Tonya ran away from reform school.

Tina wrote.

0o0

Glee club seemed like fun, a quick diversion from drudgery. Rachel was annoying, Artie interesting, Mercedes funny, and Kurt fascinating.