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The Streisand Effect

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"Put it under 'Staff Writer.'"

Isabelle Wright frowned over her caramel macchiato. "Really, Kurt?"

Kurt stared morosely at his tea. Tea. He missed junk food. "Really."

She bit her lip and studied him. He let her.

Isabelle Wright was one of the kindest, most gentle people he'd ever met. She'd been frantic with worry ever since the first night of the attack, and his radio silence since then had heightened her fears. When Kurt had half-jokingly asked her to come out all the way to Bushwick, not believing it would really happen, she'd made the trip. She'd picked up Starbucks on the way. And then she'd come in and he'd found it hard to talk about anything.

(The bill was moving through. No one knew whether it would make the vote or not, but at least there would be a national discussion. Some thought that Portman and Sanders might introduce their own version in the Senate if it failed. Sure. Whatever worked.)

After seeing the second round of ambulance stories, Carmen had called him back to let him know that Ms. Berry's request was acceptable. Kurt honestly wasn't sure whether he had a job at the diner any more and didn't really care. His thumb brushed the spot where his ring had once rested; it still felt like something was missing from his hand. He'd made a huge mistake, hadn't he? But the only bigger mistake would be pretending that they could make things work.

He needed control. He needed something to focus on. And the only thing he could do with even the slightest bit of control was to submit another article to Isabelle.

"I've never seen you look so sad," Isabelle eventually said.

"Makes sense," he said and shrugged. "I am sad."

"Talk to me. Don't be so sad. Say what's wrong and maybe we can find a way to fix it."

"I broke it off with my fiancé yesterday." He smiled wanly at the way her eyes widened. "Yeah, I don't think you can fix this."

She took a long sip of her macchiato. The stark answer had clearly shaken her, but Isabelle gamely gathered herself again and nodded. "I'm very sorry. What else is wrong?"

"My dad is doing something amazing. Something that's going to change the entire country, if he can make it happen. He is going to save lives. He is going to keep so many kids from going through some of the things I've experienced." Kurt took a sip of his tea and finished bitterly, "That and my wedding should have been the two most amazing things I've ever been part of, and instead I'm crying into a drink that I don't even like."

"Why are you sad about what your dad is doing?"

"I don't even know," Kurt whispered. "I just feel... when I woke up out of a coma, I felt ready to take on the world again. How could I be so strong then, and feel so weak now when I don't even have any bruises left?"

"Why do you feel weak now?"

"What are you, my therapist?"

Isabelle smiled lopsidedly. "I've had a lot, can you tell?"

He watched steam rise from his tea until he could think of anything to say. "I thought I knew who Kurt Hummel was. He's brave, and he makes himself heard, and he was going to get the happily ever after that was very sorely deserved. Now I'm collapsing in a Five Guys bathroom, shutting up so I don't ruin my dad's work, and... and...." He trailed off and held up his bare hand again. Some things were too painful to describe.

"You told me that you had a panic attack. Having a panic attack doesn't mean you're not brave... it just means that you had a panic attack."

"I don't want to talk about this," Kurt decided after a few vulnerable seconds. "I just want to write about boot lengths."

"Kurt."

"And if I'm already a distraction for my dad because of Monday," Kurt continued, "then I can't keep giving the media more things to focus on. Kurt Hummel cannot be writing things for Vogue. Credit it to 'Staff Writer.'"

Isabelle frowned. "Why can't the media pay attention to you? The whole country heard about you doing something amazing. You don't need to hide from that, and you don't need to fall completely off the radar just because your dad is fighting for this law."

"I'll distract from what he's doing," Kurt said, shaking his head.

"Your father is trying to protect you, Kurt. In all ways. And you're miserable. He wouldn't want you to be so sad!" Isabelle's face crinkled in sympathy and she scooted her chair closer to him. "Your dad loves you, right?"

"Yeah. A lot. I mean... we love each other."

"So there's something to be happy about." She smiled at him, clearly trying to get one in return.

Why was she making this so hard? Isabelle Wright helped managed Vogue.com, a major outlet of a major magazine. If Artie had learned about this in his sole marketing class as a would-be filmmaker, then surely Isabelle had to know about the dangers of being heard at times like this. "The Streisand effect," Kurt sighed. "If I do anything, things will get worse because they'll pay more attention to me. And instead of trying to save lives, I'll be a front page story about how I couldn't...." His eyes screwed closed and a tear slipped past.

How had he and Blaine ended up screaming at each other? How had he reached a point where the man who'd proposed to him told Sam to fend off Kurt's calls?

"The Streisand effect," Isabelle repeated blankly.

"It means—"

"I know what it means." Isabelle sipped her coffee again and studied Kurt. "Do you?"

Uncertain, he waited for her explanation.

"A man wanted to show off his aerial photography skills," Isabelle eventually continued. "This was before the days of Google Maps, so when he happened to catch Barbra Streisand's house in one of his pictures, it was a big deal. She didn't want a photograph of her back yard on someone's web site, so she had her lawyers try to get it taken down."

"Like those pictures of Beyoncé at the Super Bowl," Kurt remembered.

Isabelle pointed at him and nodded; she was always proud when her little workplace ducklings could apply marketing knowledge beyond her own examples. "Before she did that, no one really cared. But as soon as people heard that Barbra didn't want them looking at one particular picture, everyone rushed to see it. If it had gone ignored, I bet no one would have ever known that it was her house."

"I feel like there's a lesson here," Kurt said after she'd stopped and was looking at him expectantly. "But I don't know what it is."

"If you have one thing that you genuinely don't want people to focus on, then no, you shouldn't try to force attention away from it. But that doesn't mean that you have to hide everything or totally shut down. Barbra Streisand still makes albums and does TV specials and all of that stuff. People love her for it. And she didn't move out of that house just because there was one picture of it that she didn't like." Isabelle's voice softened further. "You're not 'Staff Writer.' You're Kurt Hummel, and he can take credit for his story. I can't even imagine how hard this is, but don't hide everything that makes you... you. Please."

Kurt smiled humorlessly. "So, are you saying that I shouldn't have tried to ignore everything wrong with my relationship until we were screaming at each other?"

Isabelle flinched. "Well... yeah, that would probably be a good idea. In the future."

"I really don't..." He took a sip of tea to cover his shaking voice. "I don't think there's a future, there, Isabelle. I think we let it get too bad. And I don't know what to do next with... with anything." When he laid low, the media made up their own version of Kurt Hummel and everyone else he knew. When he stepped outside, he was a victim again. Either way, he might ruin his dad's attempt at something great.

"You're going to write a story as Kurt Hummel," Isabelle decided. "Let me know the topic. But don't write about boots. We're heading into summer, it's the wrong time of year."

He smiled wryly. "Oops."

"I need to get back to work," Isabelle said regretfully. "Kurt... are you going to be okay?"

"I always am. Somehow."

After she left, he listened to Rachel's playlist. Another hero, another mindless crime. Another heartache, another failed romance. Maybe 'The Show Must Go On' wasn't a bad choice, after all.

* * *

Rachel Berry always had the very best of intentions, at least in her own mind. Kurt loved her with all of his heart, he did, but he still wished that she would have asked before trying to patch things up with him and Blaine. "He doesn't want to talk to me," Kurt guessed. "You can stop trying to sneak calls past the Sam Gate, now."

"He...." Rachel dropped her hands, one still with a phone in it, to her sides. "He's not mad at you, Kurt. I mean... not too mad. He thinks back to that hospital bed with you in it and he can't believe some of the things he said to you."

"And he thinks back to that perfect proposal," Kurt guessed tiredly, "and he can't believe some of the things I said to him." Her expression was confirmation enough. "You can stop trying to call him, Rachel. We...." He swallowed and looked at his feet again. He still needed to polish his shoes. "Maybe we can start being friends again. In a while."

"Oh, Kurt," Rachel sighed.

For the rest of the night, Kurt looked blankly at fashion articles and wondered what he was supposed to write about for Isabelle. Probably not bow ties.

On Friday, Rachel tried to get him to go to a matinee before her practice. The top-billed movie at the nearest theatre was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Kurt went to bed early.

On Saturday, Kurt forced himself to eat. He'd barely been touching anything but protein bars and almonds ever since his panic attack, he realized as he attacked a turkey sandwich. He hadn't realized how hungry he was. And by early Saturday evening, Rachel finally came up with a good idea.

"Is it safe?" asked Elliott as soon as the door slid open, and peered dramatically around the apartment.

"Hurry, hurry!" Rachel urged and pulled him inside.

"Elliott," Kurt said, startled, and set aside his laptop and the words that wouldn't come. His friend wasn't dressed like himself; he had on a basic black hoodie and unremarkable jeans. The hood was up, surely ruining the hairstyle under it. "What are you doing here? And why do you look like you're ready to rob a bank?"

After the look Rachel and Elliott exchanged, Kurt's stomach plummeted. His bank heist suggestion had been a joke, but the two of them looked halfway between Bonnie and Clyde and Team Rocket. Scheming was afoot and he had the terrible sinking suspicion that it centered on him. "What are you doing here?" he repeated, voice more strident.

"The reporters out front are crazy," Elliott said, pulling down his hood and ruffling his hair back into some semblance of order. (Of course they were, Kurt thought sadly. The news of his broken engagement had gotten out. According to some, it was a sign of how gay marriage was nothing more than fool's gold.) "I told them the story you suggested, Rachel. But they only believed I lived in the building when I invited one up to my apartment and asked if he wanted to use my toilet while I watched." At Kurt's pale, gawking reaction, he shrugged. "It's Bushwick. I wanted to blend in."

"I think that was a little much," Kurt said weakly.

"This is a jailbreak," Rachel explained, grinning.

"A jailbreak?" Kurt looked between them, eyes wide. "No, stop. The two of you are plotting. And I love both of you, but I've been caught up in the schemes of Rachel Barbra Berry before. I don't want to fall on my face—literally—on the front page of CNN."

"Probably won't happen," Elliott said and shrugged. "I have a ladder."

"What?"

Rachel saluted both of them, then gathered her things and pulled on her coat. In a few swift seconds she looked like a Broadway ingenue in training, rather than his boundary-free roommate who always ran out of socks before she relented and did laundry. "I need to get to practice."

"Can you give us five minutes, minimum?" Elliott asked.

"Darling," Rachel said, more affected than her Barbra Halloween costumes from both junior and senior year, "I'll give you ten."

"Hey!" Kurt shouted. His foot hit the ground, hard, but he barely acknowledged the jolt of pain. "What the hell is going on?"

"From the sound of things, you're about to lose your mind. You can't walk around your own neighborhood or go to your own school without being stalked. So this is a jailbreak," Elliott repeated. "I'm sneaking you out the back while Rachel distracts the reporters. Put on your shoes and grab a coat."

"I've practiced years for this," Rachel said airily. Her head tilted up in a perfect profile. "I know how to hold paparazzi attention."

Something that might be real, unfiltered excitement clutched Kurt's spine. It had been so long since he'd felt that running along his nerves, rather than sick anxiety. "I don't have 'a back' to sneak out of," he protested even as he pulled on a pair of shoes.

"You have a window. And like I said, I have a ladder." Elliott grinned. "They're remodeling a place nearby and I slipped them twenty bucks to leave it here tonight."

"Please, Kurt," Rachel implored him. "You're just... reacting to things and trying not to exist. Please do this? For me?"

"This is idiotic," Kurt said and pulled on his coat. Elliott nodded proudly. "Thank you."

"Wait until the reporters are busy with Rachel," Elliott said once she'd left them in the loft. "I'm sure we'll be able to—"

"Hel-LO!"

"—Hear her," he finished, amused. "Let's go."

Kurt hadn't been out at night like this since his attack. As he swung out of the window and onto the ladder Elliott had promised, his heart thudded as much from fear as enthusiasm. It was an active sort of fear, though; not the paralyzing kind that had circled him ever since he was a sad, Sarah McLachlan song victim.

He'd almost forgotten how to move.

Elliott landed roughly next to him, heavier than Kurt had managed. "Okay, let me move the ladder so someone can't tell your window is unlocked," he whispered. With a jolt, Kurt realized that the reporters were still close and could easily come running. He helped Elliott stow the ladder in a dark nook in absolute silence. "Come on, I parked a block away."

"Parked?" Kurt echoed before he remembered Elliott's trip upstate; he must have needed to invest in a car while living out in the splendor of nature. It was a tiny, ancient thing, but it ran. Giddy, Kurt held back his laughter until they were another two blocks away.

"We're just going to the park," Elliott said when Kurt's excitement apparently built too high for his tastes. "Sorry, I didn't have any big plans except for getting you out of there. Rachel and I just got the feeling that you were kind of suffocating."

For an answer, Kurt breathed deeply.

This didn't fix things, but he felt awake. He abruptly remembered tattoos and piercings and every other foolish attempt to feel alive, and took another deep breath. I'm awake. I am awake. And I made it through once before. "Let's walk through the park," Kurt said like it was the best idea in the world.

Elliott struck an imposing figure in the darkness, particularly with the thick-soled boots he'd chosen. Perhaps it should have felt dangerous to be out there, but for weeks, actual physical harm had felt like the least of Kurt's concerns. That was the one thing he could overcome. Wrapped in the quiet of night, with a friend at his side and no one else around, Kurt relaxed. He could almost remember what the sound of his own thoughts felt like.

They walked nearly a mile along the Prospect Park paths in silence. Elliott naturally seemed to understand it was what Kurt wanted and let him set the pace. By that mile marker, though, Kurt's pace slowed. "What is it?" Elliott asked.

"I... did Rachel tell you about me and...."

With a sigh, Elliott nodded. "I'm really sorry."

"I don't think I can fix this." Kurt, stopping, shook his head. "I don't know if I even want to try. I said that we don't fit together any more and I still think that's right."

"You love him a lot, though," Elliott pointed out.

"He loves me with his whole heart," Kurt said, shoulders sagging, "and he was jealous of me when I was miserable. And I love him, and I still treated him like an easy target whenever anyone annoyed me. I... it's only a few days later and I'm heartbroken but relieved. It's like I'd been preparing for this for months without ever realizing it."

"That's really not fair to him, you know." Elliott said it like he always did: without judgment, but with no plans to coddle Kurt's behavior. "I'm not saying you have to be with him, but it's still not fair."

"No," Kurt quietly agreed. "I don't know if I can handle an apology until this all blows over, though. If I'm tense, I might start screaming at him again. And that... would kind of ruin the ambiance."

Elliott chuckled. "Just a little bit." They walked around a hillside turn in comfortable silence. "So you don't think you're 'soulmates.'"

Kurt groaned, long and deep. "It's a beautiful idea, I would love to believe it, and if I think about it too much in practice it absolutely breaks my heart."

"Why?"

"Did my dad lose his soulmate forever when I was little, or was he just wasting time with someone meaningless until he met my new mom?"

"Oh," Elliott said, surprised. "That makes sense. I'd forgotten your dad remarried. I guess it would be kind of depressing to think you only get one shot at things, then."

"Yeah." Kurt squinted up through the New York light pollution. He missed the stars, sometimes. "I never asked about your parents."

"Still together, never married."

"Never?" Kurt asked in surprise.

Elliott grinned. His teeth gleamed white in the darkness. "Yeah, they met in this organic hippie farm compound in the Willamette Valley, and marriage wasn't for any of them. Then they moved to Portland and shifted into full-on Pearl District hipster mode... though they didn't call it that, back then. They decided that it wasn't fair to get married if their gay friends couldn't. And by now, they just didn't want to bother."

The names tugged at Kurt's memory. It took him a while to place, all the way back to American History and stories of the Oregon Trail. He gasped. "You're from Oregon?"

"I told you I was from Portland! My dad's an illustrator, mom teaches guitar? Remember?"

"I thought that you meant Maine!" Kurt nearly stumbled over his own feet. "What else don't I know about you?"

"For one thing, I can say 'Oregon' properly. Two syllables, not three."

"That's how I said it," Kurt protested.

"Whatever you want to think, Hummel."

Kurt smacked his arm, smiling. A chill had begun to sink in and he hadn't grabbed the right coat. He hugged himself as he walked, but otherwise let the cold clear his head. "Isabelle wants me to write something for Vogue.com. I don't know what to do, but she wants me to stop hiding and get my name out there."

"Sounds like a good idea."

"But what?" Kurt asked. "I can barely think about anything but what my dad is doing! How am I supposed to write about the end of the peplum era?"

Elliott frowned and scratched his head. "Do you have to write about fashion? Maybe you could write about music. I could sneak you out again, take you to a concert or something. It'd be good to get you out of the house."

"That's sweet," Kurt said on reflex as his mind started working. "You know... you're right. I've only ever worked in fashion, but there are other areas. I'm sure I could find something I'm ready to talk about. Let's stop. Squint, I'm about to turn on my phone."

Elliott obligingly squinted as the iPhone gleamed into the darkness. When their eyes adjusted, both men leaned in and scanned the content before them. "Go to culture," Elliott suggested, "there should be a lot of options there."

"Movies, tv, books," Kurt mumbled, "and... wait a second. Opinion?" His finger hovered over the screen, then tapped. He felt suddenly nervous again, though he couldn't say why. He didn't have the slightest clue about this part of the publication, not with how he'd clung to Isabelle.

It was Elliott who read the title of the latest article aloud. "'When Disaster Strikes—One Woman's Story of the Boston Marathon Bombing.'" He grimaced. "Well, that's a lot more serious than I was expecting."

"It is," Kurt echoed. He'd worked for Vogue.com for more than a year. He'd read the magazine for a decade. And he'd never put two and two together and realized that their web presence would also have hard news articles. Fear crept back into his body, but this time it didn't coil between organs and claw at his mind. It grabbed his muscles, it jostled his feet, it encouraged him to move. Just like when he'd run into that alley. "Let's keep walking," Kurt said after that long pause. "I need to think."

They walked more than they talked. Kurt thought and moved and planned, and never stopped.

"Thank you, Elliott," Kurt said when they were approaching his building in Elliott's terrible, tiny car. He didn't see any reporters; they must have given up for the night. Besides, why bother with getting fresh new content about Kurt Hummel when one could simply make up more stories about the Congressman's son?

"What are friends for?" Before Kurt could slide from his seat, Elliott caught his hands. His large, warm fingers rubbed the spot where Kurt had once bore a ring. "You're going to get through all of this."

"I am," Kurt agreed after a long pause. He smiled at Elliott; Elliott smiled back. "Of course I am. I'm Kurt Hummel."

* * *

When Burt heard his plans, he approved enthusiastically.

Kurt should have known he would. The weight of the entire world had felt like it was on his shoulders: responsibilities for lives in danger, the court of public opinion, media wars playing out in the world of him and his friends. Caught up in that, he'd somehow forgotten that his father, above all else, knew that he'd raised a fighter.

"I know what I want to write," Kurt told Isabelle. He'd made himself visit her in her home that Sunday, even though it had meant passing another reporter as he left.

"Fantastic!" She grinned and leaned in. "What?"

"This," Kurt said and passed the pages over.

"What is it?" Isabelle wondered, flipping through the article. She turned back to the first page and read the title: Why I Ran Into That Alley. "Kurt," she said slowly as she began to understand what she was holding: the only real interview that America's Favorite Pawn had ever offered. "I... this would be amazing to post, but you don't have to do this. I was just hoping that you would feel confident enough to talk about—"

"Peplums?" Kurt guessed.

"Right!"

"Well, I want to talk about this."

She bit her lip. "I'm not going to say no, but... you were so broken before. Why did you change your mind?"

With a deep breath, he answered. "The world wants me to shut up. The world thinks that I don't fit. When I talk, people make fun of me. Even when I do stay quiet, they find something else to mock. And I thought there was something bigger at stake, so I tried to shut up anyway."

His body buzzed with the truth. "People were happy when I was a statistic. When I was just another attack victim, they didn't care. If they hadn't noticed me because of my dad, they never would have cared. And now, when they did notice, everyone thought they could still speak for me. The news thinks they know who I am, but they've never done anything but shout questions at me. People on my Facebook profile used me in arguments they were already in. Well, I'm sick of it."

Isabelle smiled lopsidedly.

"My dad is dealing with terrible people every day to try to make a difference. I am not going to make a difference by being the mascot for what he's trying to accomplish. People need to listen. They're going to say terrible things about me anyway, so I might as well shove something real in their face while they do."

"Does your dad know you wrote this?" Isabelle asked quietly. "Not that he has to approve, of course, but—"

"He proofread it," Kurt said. "Thumbs up."

"I'll have to run this by some other people at the office," Isabelle said, but Kurt was already nodding. "Well... it won't go live until tomorrow at least, assuming people are okay with it, so you'll have time to change your mind."

"Thanks. I won't." He grinned faintly. "I've heard that I'm kind of stubborn."

As he walked out of Isabelle's narrow townhouse, his hands shook.

They shook even more when he dug out his phone. "Hi, Sam," Kurt said. "No, don't try to get me off the phone. I know you hate me, so I'll be quick."

"I don't hate you," Sam protested. "I... just... kind of have to pick sides."

"I'm posting an interview on Vogue. Well, it's not so much an interview as an article, really. I'm talking about everything that really happened in the alley, and what it's been like for me when someone's not hitting me with a brick." He could almost see Sam cringe. "You can laugh, that was a joke."

"Ha," Sam said weakly.

"I talk about Blaine's proposal."

Sam stopped any attempts at laughing; he didn't make any sound at all.

"It's all positive, don't worry." A gnawing, hollow feeling crept into Kurt's chest again, like he suspected would happen for a very long time to come. "I say how... how anyone would be ridiculously lucky to feel as loved as I was in that second. And how it just kills me that everything went so far south after that, and how something beautiful got turned into a punchline on Fox. I tried to be very open and honest about how things happened. You know: mentioning how tense and snappish I get. I've certainly heard it enough to know it's the truth."

"Did you talk about me being a clingy, jealous idiot?"

Kurt froze at the new voice. "Uh... Sam?"

"I put you on speakerphone."

The hollow feeling in Kurt's chest dropped straight to his gut. "Hi.... hi, Blaine."

"So did you?"

"This... this article was about me. I talked about me. So, no." Kurt swallowed. "I'm sorry." He'd been the one to end it; his apology needed a real chance to grow and blossom.

"Oh." Blaine quieted for a second. "You could have."

"Blaine...."

"We hadn't been happy for a while, had we?"

"No," Kurt admitted.

"It's going to be a long time until I want to see you again." Blaine's voice sounded thick when he spoke again. Once, all those emotions had been oppressive to Kurt. Now, he smiled like his heart was breaking all over again. "But... I will. Some day. Is that okay?"

"Yeah. Some day." Kurt hesitated as he remembered something. "Um, I'm going back to school tomorrow." Blaine muttered something and Sam laughed, then apologized immediately after. "But... I'll give you space."

"You always did like space," Blaine agreed, a bit too pointedly. No, this wouldn't go quickly. But it was moving forward, and they weren't hiding. And they were both speaking up.

* * *

Kurt's article didn't go up for another week; neither he nor Burt were expert editors, and the Vogue people decided that it needed a better media timeframe, besides. It didn't make a huge splash, but it certainly counted as medium-sized. And it was at least big enough to kickstart discussion on a gridlocked bill. "I don't know what's going to happen with that," Kurt admitted as he watched C-SPAN.

"It'll make it through. It has to," Mercedes insisted.

"Either way," Elliott pointed out, "there was a really important discussion in the news. It's hard to overstate the value of that. Right?"

Rachel lobbed a piece of Chex Mix at his head. "Don't jinx it."

Kurt grinned and grabbed a handful for himself, stowing it next to his baby carrots.

Once he'd released his article, the media suddenly cared about his opinions. He wasn't just a collection of high school stereotypes, nor whatever soap opera people could piece together out of his social media feeds. He was a living, breathing man who'd made a snap decision to save someone's life, and a living, breathing man who had nearly been marked down as 'disposable' despite that decision.

It was one thing to say that no one should look at something, then do anything it took to be ignored. It was another thing entirely to give them something better to focus on. Kurt Hummel had never been very good at shrinking down into nothing.

"Ugh," Mercedes groaned when the House called an end to debates for the day. "Don't drag this out forever! I can't keep coming out to friggin' Bushwick."

"Don't you love us?" Rachel asked with a pout.

"I do, but Artie comes over whenever I leave for more than a few hours. And then boys start acting like boys, and when I get back that whole place smells like corn chips."

"Gross," Elliott said.

"And so I'd better not press my luck." Sighing, Mercedes stood. "I'll be back tomorrow, I guess." When Kurt kissed her goodbye, she hugged him back, hard.

"I don't want to wait until tomorrow," Rachel grumbled after the door had slid closed. "If this was a movie, your dad would have been able to squeeze in a big dramatic speech that won it for him right there. Wrap things up, politicians!" she demanded, striking her hand into her open palm with each word.

"If off-the-cuff speeches got you votes," Kurt said wryly, "my dad really would end up as president."

Elliott chuckled and pushed himself up. "Right, then. Hopefully things all get wrapped up in a neat bow tomorrow."

"Dare to dream," Kurt said airily.

As Elliott pulled on his coat, he hesitated mid-sleeve. "Hey, uh, Kurt... no matter what happens, do you want to go somewhere tomorrow? Might be in celebration, might be in... whatever you call it when you give conservatives the middle finger."

"Sounds like half of my high school existence," Kurt giggled and began collecting the remnants of their drinks. "Yeah, sounds fun! If we go early enough, Rachel could come, too!" Elliott's smile faltered and Kurt's still-aching chest fluttered for one sharp, sudden beat. "...I would love to go somewhere with you, and only me," Kurt corrected.

"That sounds great," Elliott said with faint relief. "Uh, not that I don't like you, Rachel."

She smiled, too big.

"See you tomorrow, Kurt," Elliott said after a long pause. His eyes were beautiful, and how had Kurt ever thought that he was too much of anything? He was exactly the right amount of Elliott.

"See you tomorrow."

"You just got out of a major relationship," Rachel reminded Kurt when they were alone.

"Which is why I am just having fun with a friend." Kurt dropped cans into the recycling bin. "And we'll see what happens after that. One day at a time. No rushing, no pressure."

"Be careful," she said more gently. "I know you wouldn't want to lose him as a friend, but I also don't want to see you get hurt."

"I'm tough," Kurt said with a grin and grabbed his cell phone as he tidied. About to shove it in his pocket, he hesitated. Something drew him over to the next page of icons, and with one firm click he opened Instagram. For a long, silent moment, Kurt considered this record of his recent life: the school selfies, the shameless love of Broadway, and the pictures with his closest friends right there in that very room. The blinks of an eye that people had tried to twist and warp into whatever story they wanted to tell, and he'd hidden safely away.

Kurt looked at his life for a few seconds more, then brought up his settings and changed his account back to public.