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The Butterfly Effect

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March 22, 1997

 

Kurt’s mother died three weeks short of his sixth birthday, on a Tuesday morning. It was March and the very last of the snow was drifting down, making the temperatures frigid and Kurt testy. All he wanted to do, despite his father’s desperate coaxing and his mother’s sweet urging, was crawl into bed with a cup of coco and listen to his grandmother’s records. And nap a lot. Kurt adored naps, even if most of the kids in his playgroup had decided a year previously that naps were quickly becoming a thing of the past. It was also early in the morning, another thing Kurt detested, and they were on their way home from the supermarket.

She died, with Kurt none the wiser, through fault of her own. As he sat in his booster seat, placated easily by a new toy he’d just had to have while waiting in line, she was running late. She’d promised Kurt’s father they’d have morning breakfast together at the house before she headed to work to pull a double shift. But there had been traffic that morning, the unusually heavy type, and an above average crowd at the store. Kurt’s patience had worn thin, as had hers, and she failed to yield at a familiar intersection, attempting to make up for lost time.

There was screaming, and the shattering of glass, and Kurt lost his grip on everything except for the seat he was belted into. He took a soft and rasping gasp, choked out a sob, and then called out, “Mommy?”

He could just see her, across from him in the driver’s seat, wedged down in some unnatural manner. Tears pricked his eyes. She twitched, and for one dreadful, long moment, he could barely breathe.

The chilling, March wind blew through the car, destroying the coifed hair on top Kurt’s head that this mother had worked so hard on earlier that morning. He could feel the thin strands blow across his forehead, and the prickling of his skin was almost painful.

Her head turned towards him and he strained forward desperately, shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!”

She tried to speak and he screamed loudly, seconds passing like years.

But then next thing he knew he was snatched from his seat and traveling away from her, tucked against a stranger’s chest. He fought wildly, even as the man holding him, the navy blue of his paramedic’s uniform something Kurt recognized from his safety videos, whispered fiercely, “You’re okay, son. I’ve got you. Let me help you.”

This man, Kurt decided, twisting as awkwardly as he could, was not good. He couldn’t be, not if he was taking Kurt further away from his mother. He couldn’t see her anymore, couldn’t reach for her, and the blueness of her eyes were lost to him. He could barely remember they were blue.

They didn’t let him see her. Instead Kurt ended up sheltered into the back of an ambulance, piled under thermal blankets. A nice woman sat with him the entire time, her arm foreign around his shoulders and unwanted. He cried, and begged, “I want my mommy. Take me to my mommy.” There was no relenting on the topic, and it seemed like they were destined to wait forever.

His father’s eyes were horribly red when he appeared in Kurt’s line of sight. The big, strong man’s shoulders were hunched and instinctively Kurt began to cry once more. He reached out with small, grasping fingers for the hug that he knew would engulf him, and then barely squeaked as he was squeezed a bit too tightly.

“Where did mommy go?” Kurt asked that night, sheltered under his father’s heavy arm as they lay together in bed. Kurt had deliberately chosen his soft, red satin pajamas, mostly because he’d had to beg his father for weeks for them, and unlike his mother’s preferred clothing, they did not have footsies. “Is she coming back? When can I see her?”

They hadn’t had dinner. Kurt knew that usually meant he’d been bad, but his father had been expressively certain, and told him time and time again, that he had done nothing wrong. But they still hadn’t had it, and instead Kurt had wound up crushed to his father’s chest while he watched his grandmother and grandfather from a distance. They’d talked to the police while his father held him, and they’d puttered around the house when everyone had finally gone home. But Kurt’s father hadn’t done much of anything, and so neither had Kurt. His tummy rumbled a bit, but it wasn’t anything to fret over. Kurt had thrown enough tantrums in his life to know that if he went to bed without dinner, there’d likely be an even bigger breakfast waiting for him.

“Kurt,” his father whispered, fingers heavy on his cheeks, then his forehead, then through his hair. “Mommy had to go away.”

Most things, Kurt learned later on, did.

_____________

August 28, 2009

The alarm was set for six thirty, which was about average for Kurt, and hours earlier than Finn was used to getting up. Finn, at least during the summer, could sleep well into the afternoon hours, something that Kurt was a bit envious of, even if he found it exceedingly unproductive. But for the most part, when school let out for ten weeks during the hottest weather of the year, there wasn’t a lot to really do, and as long as Finn showed up for his late shift at the garage, Kurt was more than willing to take the morning shift.

They coordinated a lot of things, the more Kurt thought about it, lying in bed, glancing periodically at the alarm clock that wouldn’t beep for another half hour or so. He and Finn had a natural way of working things out without conflict. It was, at least by Kurt’s understanding, because they were so different. Part of Kurt thought maybe they should have clashed more often, but in the end they didn’t, and there likely was some truth to opposites attracting. If Kurt was inclined to believe such things.

With a deafening sigh, the sound alone in the dead quietness of the room, Kurt rolled from his back to his side, bringing a pillow with him. He hadn’t been able to sleep at all that night. And furthermore, he’d known the day before that getting any was going to be difficult. There was always a telltale sign of anxiety tightness in his chest the night before a restless attempt at sleep. Usually, Kurt could attribute his infrequent sleeping patterns to something specific, and the previous night was no different. Because, if Kurt was being honest with himself, he was nervous.

The night before, with Finn, his father and mother at the dinner table, Burt had asked, “Are you boys excited to go back to school?” Kurt had only been able to look up from his grilled chicken and shoot his father a look of unadulterated disbelief.

Naturally, Finn had exclaimed, “Way excited!”

Then again, Finn had a lot to look forward to. Often, Kurt was envious of his brother. Finn was a lot of things, and most of them qualities and attributes that made Kurt jealous. It was absolutely petty to be jealous of his brother, but he was. Because Finn was tall, and handsome, and the star quarterback of the Titans. Finn made friends so easily, had a drop dead gorgeous girlfriend that Kurt knew Finn would end up marrying one day, and was generally well liked by everyone at McKinley High. He was, in a word, normal. Not that Finn was without flaws, but to Kurt, it seemed as if Finn was normal, and he was not. Sometimes Kurt wondered if other people saw them in that way. Sometimes he worried.

A minute ticked by on the clock and Kurt shifted again. At dinner he’d declared to his father, “I’ll make the most of this year. This year counts.” It was his way of promising, because junior year did mean everything. Unlike Finn who was a senior, and who was likely going to ride a football scholarship to Ohio State, and then, if he was really lucky, a pro career, Kurt planned to study hard and shoot for an out of state University. He had a trust fund, Kurt knew as much, set away for college. It had been gaining interest for over a decade, and if he could maintain his GPA, add on a few extra curricular activities, and kiss enough asses, Kurt was sure he could make it into a good school. He was shooting for Berkley, or maybe NYU.

Chewing intently, Burt had paused for a moment, then asked, “You gonna be able to keep your grades up with that coach breathing down your neck?” The words weren’t at all what his father really meant, but Kurt played along. He supposed they were going to ignore the giant elephant in the room, which was just as well.

So Kurt had only been able to laugh, unable to tell his father that of all things, the Cheerios were his fallback plan. Sylvester’s Cheerios scholarshiped like Jacob Ben Israel gossiped. If, for whatever reason, Kurt’s grades took a tumble, he knew he could fall back on the Cheerios. Particularly, he was gunning for the head spot the following year. He’d even toyed with idea of challenging for it as a junior, not that he’d let onto Finn or his parents about that. Finn’s girlfriend, Quinn, had occupied the spot for the past two years, though there was never any doubt that she’d have it for her senior year. But afterwards, next year, when Quinn and Finn went away to college, it was going to be Kurt’s, and it was going to solidify his place at McKinley. It was going to offer him the last bit of protection that his brother couldn’t fully give him. The kind Dave Karofsky could try to, and his father had no clue about. No one messed with the head Cheerio, not as long as Sylvester lived and breathed.

Around six o’clock, and nearly dying of boredom, Kurt rolled out of bed and trekked across his room to his closet. His fingers caught the light switch on the way and he had to blink several times against the flood of brightness. But when his eyes stopped watering and he was firm on his feet, Kurt let himself pull his closet door open and gazed inside.

A day earlier he’d meticulously chosen his back to school outfit. With Finn lounging on his bed, a motor magazine open in front of him, Kurt had questioned, “You’re just going to grab the first thing you see in the morning and throw it on, right?” He’d tossed a look of disapproval over his shoulder to Finn who was only grinning madly. The answer was silent but implied. “Finn Hummel, you wound me.” For Kurt, the first back to school outfit was a statement. Though, he reasoned, it was easy for Finn. Finn generally threw his football jersey on over a plaid tee most days of the week. That suited him just fine. Kurt, however, needed his clothing to speak to McKinley’s population.

“I don’t know why you’re freaking out again,” Finn said, reminding him that the past two days they’d gone through the same routine.

“I should kick you out of my room right now,” Kurt returned, holding up a navy blue shirt. It was tailored perfectly, and Kurt had fond memories of ripping it out of a Filipino woman’s hands one season previously at a McQueen trunk show. “You’re clearly not going to be helpful.”

Finn had only rolled to his side and nudged the magazine closed. “Dude, you’re only going to be in your clothes for like, a couple hours at most. Then we have the pep rally and by then no one is going to remember what you were wearing in home room.”

“It’s the principal of the matter,” Kurt retorted, and didn’t dare tell Finn that his clothing was more than decorative. As much as Kurt loathed to admit it, his clothing defined him. It was a physical, visual, and unavoidable representation of who he was, what he stood for, and how he intended to be perceived by the people he went to school with. Kurt was loud, and so was his clothing. Kurt was unforgettable, and so he made his clothing the same way.

Ultimately Kurt had settled on one of his favorite items of clothing, a form fitting, knee length sweater. He paired the outfit with black, clingy pants and stepped back to admire the choice as Finn stood behind him, so much taller and lacking appreciation.

“What?” Kurt demanded. His father hated the collection of sweaters he owned. His father was always very careful with the words he chose, and had never openly showed any disapproval of Kurt or his lifestyle choices, but neither had he ever hidden the way he felt about the clothing Kurt wore. His father probably thought the clothing was gender inappropriate, at least Kurt assumed as much. There was also something about the clothing that made the older man nervous. Kurt had noted on several occasions, his father’s hand always came down a little more protectively on his shoulder when they were out and Kurt wore his sweaters. But the sweaters were nothing in comparison to the kilts Kurt owned. Those, Kurt remembered somberly, had taken him two months of whining to obtain. Kurt hardly wore his kilts.

With a grunt, Finn said, “Your boyfriend is gonna like it.”

Kurt rolled his eyes. “Don’t act so moody. You pretend like he’s not your friend.” They had the argument frequently, nearly once a week and it always ended with neither feeling as if they’d won.

Predictable, Finn argued back, “He’s not my friend. Dave is not my friend, Kurt. He’s my teammate. That doesn’t make him my friend.”

Kurt’s hands had gone to his waist. “You have the same friends, play on the same football team, have nearly all of the same classes, and hang out together. You get along, Finn. You’re friends.”

Finn had mumbled something, something Kurt hadn’t caught, and left the room with the motor magazine forgotten. Kurt sighed and gave another look to the outfit.

Twelve hours later and Kurt still shared the same opinion of his back to school outfit. He thought it was flawless. And Finn was right, for all of Finn’s attitude and implied tone, Kurt’s boyfriend was going to like it. Dave Karofsky never made any secret of how he enjoyed Kurt’s clothing, whether it was molded to his body or on the teen’s bedroom floor.

There was a soft knock at the door to his room and Kurt called out instinctively, “Come in.” He couldn’t help looking back at the clock once more. It was still too early for Finn to be invading his personal space. Nothing short of some type of apocalypse was going to get Finn out of bed before seven. His father was out, too, because Burt Hummel was a little bit too much like Finn. That only left his mother.

“Sweetheart?” That was his mom.

Kurt’s face broke a smile when her head popped into the room, her hair still limp from sleep. But her face was warm and inviting and Kurt could see that she was wearing the satin pajamas he’d gotten her for her birthday earlier that year.

“Hi, mom,” he offered softly, waving her into the room. “It’s early.”

She nodded, entering the room completely and shutting the door behind her. “I thought you might be up earlier. You usually are, the morning of something important. I just wanted to check in on you.” She moved closer to the closer and observed the outfit for a moment then remarked, “It’s wonderful, Kurt. You outdo yourself every time.”

“Dad will hate it,” Kurt muttered, reaching out to brush at the fabric.

Carole laughed, her hand coming up to rub at Kurt’s back. “He doesn’t hate the clothing, sweetheart. He hates the way it makes the other boys look at you.”

“I’m sixteen,” Kurt snapped a bit. He’d be seventeen before long, and his father’s overprotective routine was starting to get old. What had started out, years ago, as a protective feeling, truly had morphed into something of a smothering nature. His father tried, and Kurt appreciated the effort, but he was a teenager now, with a boyfriend, and he wanted his independence. He wanted trust.

His mother kissed his forehead gently. “Kurt, I know how little you like to be reminded of this, but you’re always going to be you father’s baby. You got the short end of the stick there.”

Kurt turned to her. “Finn is only a year older. He doesn’t hover over Finn like he does with me.” Kurt jabbed a finger at her. “And he doesn’t grill Quinn for an hour when she comes over like he does with Dave.”

Carole’s cool fingers wrapped around the one Kurt had jabbed in her direction. “Finn doesn’t look like he’s several years younger than he actually is,” she reminded. “And he certainly isn’t going to ever find himself overpowered by Quinn during a heated make out session.” She breathed deeply. “He doesn’t mean to set a type of double standard.”

Shoulders falling, Kurt admitted, “I know he doesn’t. I just wish he …”

She nodded slowly. “In the end, he just wants you to be happy. He looks at you now, Kurt, and he doesn’t see happiness.”

It stung, her words, and the truth resonating from them.

“Neither do I, sweetheart.”

He wasn’t. He wasn’t happy, and he knew it wasn’t hard to see. But then he didn’t think he really was supposed to be. He was sixteen, and he lived in Lima, Ohio. He was too thin, often looked younger than he actually was. He came across overly pale, and so very, very gay. Surrounded by conservatives and people who were openly disapproving of that fact, Kurt wasn’t certain it was possible to be happy. And so it was why he worked hard to keep up his grades. He had joined the Cheerios in order to fit into the status quo a bit more, and most importantly, part of the reason why he let Dave Karofsky kiss him so often--the other part was that he actually liked it.

“I just want … mom …”

“You won’t be here forever, Kurt.”

His mother knew him so well.

Kurt gave a laugh. “I may not be so happy, mom, but I’m not unhappy.”

There was a deep frown line on her forehead that made him want to rub out. It was a while before she said anything, and not before she pulled him in tight for a hug. In fact it seemed like minutes later before she promised him, “One day you won’t have to settle for this, and the only real travesty will be if you convince yourself otherwise.”

His face tucked into her neck and for one brief moment, he wondered if he could have had this conversation with anyone else. Finn was so important to him, and his father was irreplaceable, but there was something about his mother that just made him feel so much better whenever he was down, or doubting himself, or just in need of reassurance. She was so good at knowing when to push, and when to wait for him to be ready to share. She had just the right amount to wisdom, and Kurt couldn’t imagine his life without her.

He confessed, the anxiety in his chest unfolding a bit, “But mom, sometimes I feel … it’s this feeling of …”

“Hmm?”

“Restlessness,” Kurt managed eventually. “I’m waiting, mom.”

“For what?” she asked, pulling back and keeping him at arms length as she studied his face. “To be happy?”

Kurt shook his head. “Not exactly.” He could only shrug helplessly.

“Well,” she breathed out, “no sense trying to get these things into words. They’ll work themselves out, and when they do, you’ll know. But I’m always here, Kurt. I will always be here. If you want to talk, or if you don’t, that’s what I’m for. You can always come to me or your father or even Finn.”

There was never any judgment. There never had been. Kurt couldn’t imagine most kids had the kind of parents that he did, but he never took it for granted.

“Want to come downstairs and help me make pancakes?” Carole suggested. She wiggled her eyebrows at him. “I bought fresh blueberries, and I think we have bananas and walnuts.”

“It’s six ten,” Kurt pointed out. “No one will but up for another twenty minutes, or more. And I can’t eat pancakes anyway.”

Her hand slid down from his shoulder to catch his thin wrist and she asked critically, “Kurt, just so we’re clear, this year …” she was struggling, and Kurt knew immediately what she was trying to ask. But he couldn’t bring himself to help her. All he could do was stand there silently as she continued, “We’re not going to have the same problem? Not that it was a problem! Your father and I just worry. We need to know that you’re going to be okay. You can’t let it happen again. We have to … we’ll get you help … your father will …”

“I’m fine,” Kurt eased out, his voice rough. “Mom, I promise. I … you don’t have to worry.”

Her eyes were a little glassy and Kurt felt so guilty.

“Just have one pancake,” she tried, squeezing his wrist. “I’ll make you a wheat one, so it’ll be better for you. And I bought skim milk.”

In the few moments that she’d been in the room the sun had begun to come up, and Kurt reached out to switch the light off, letting the natural light brighten up the room instead. “Okay, one.”

She kissed him again, once more on the forehead and was just so appreciative that Kurt wanted to curl in on himself.

___________

June 17, 1997

The first time Kurt met Carole his mother had been dead for six weeks. His father had taken him to the shop with him, sat him in the office and set a coloring book on his lap. Kurt always colored in the lines, unlike some of his friends, and he even had a large, one hundred and twenty crayon pack that his father had bought him after he’d thrown a fit over being unable to work with the standard twelve crayon pack.

“My son, Kurt.” His father announced.

Kurt looked up at his name. He could see a woman following behind his father into the office. Kurt nearly wiggled off the office chair as he watched his father produce papers for her to sign. But as much as it nearly killed him to remain seated and still while his father conducted business, he did. His father had reminded him as recently as that morning how important it was that Kurt be good while at the shop. It was dangerous around the shop, and Kurt didn’t want to go away like his mother had.

Burt was handing Carole the keys to her car when she spotted Kurt. “He’s adorable,” she remarked, her fingers brushing against Burt’s.

Burt nodded a smile on his face. “He’s my life. Kurt, say hi to Ms. Hudson.”

Kurt offered her a shy wave, and then he held up the picture he’d colored. Burt flashed him a thumbs up.

The keys to Carole’s Toyota were in her pocket as she told Burt, “I’ve got one of my own. Finn looks like he’s just a bit older than Kurt.” She was at Kurt’s side a moment later, her soft fingers brushing at the fringe on his forehead. “How old are you, sweetheart?”

“Oh,” Burt said a bit suddenly, moving to Kurt’s side. “Ms. Hudson, Kurt … he … he hasn’t spoken in a while. Not since … not since his mother died. Not since the funeral.”

Her eyes watered immediately and she kissed his forehead. Then she whispered to him, “My name is Carole, Kurt, and its okay if you don’t have anything to say. Sometime we say the most when we don’t say anything at all. Don’t let anyone push you. You go ahead and do it at your speed. But I want you to know that I think you’re a very brave boy. I can tell you’ve been taking very good care of your father.” She flashed a smile up at Burt who had looked away and tipped his cap down further on his head. “You’re special, Kurt. I can tell, and it’s very nice to meet you.”

Slowly, and so softly that both adults nearly missed it, Kurt said, “Hi, Carole.”

Burt choked out a sob.

Kurt had maybe fallen in love with her a bit in that moment, and so had his father.

__________________

August 28, 2009

“Please,” Finn begged, rocking back on his heels. He had his backpack thrown over one shoulders and was staring at Burt with his best pleading look. “Please dad. We already missed the bus.”

Carole laughed behind her hand while Kurt winced a bit. He knew what Finn was aiming at, but there was a good chance it could backfire on them and they could end up crammed into the back of their father’s pickup, dropped off in front of the school like they were children. It had happened before.

“I took your car away for good reason,” Burt reminded, arms crossed. “You may not have confessed to it, but I have it on good authority that you and Puckerman were part of the group that stole Lincoln High’s mascot.”

Finn scoffed loudly. “They’re our rivals, dad. They toilet papered our football field. There was like a foot of toilet paper everywhere. We couldn’t practice for two days. And if we did steal their mascot, it’s not like they didn’t deserve it.”

Carole raised an eyebrow, and then asked, “But to steal a goat, Finnegan?” Finn scowled fiercely at the use of his full name. “How did you manage that? Burt, I think if he’s willing to explain how he managed to do that, he should get the car back.”

Burt did not look amused, and Kurt thought he was nearly clear of the mess entirely until his father said, “Carole, do you know why I insisted on taking the car away from both Finn and Kurt?”

Kurt shrugged when she looked to him. He offered, “Guilty by association? Osmosis?”

“Because,” Burt pointed out, “I know both my sons very well, and I’m aware of the fact that Finn may have come up with the idea to steal that goat, but he couldn’t have constructed the details of that plot down to the point that they were.” Burt’s gaze shifted to Kurt. “But Kurt’s good at that.”

Kurt’s eyes widened a little. “There’s absolutely no proof that I was involved at all.” Finn nodded a little too quickly.

“Also,” Burt added, “Finn, I know that the Navigator was used in the getaway. Puckerman doesn’t have a car and none of your football buddies have something big enough to fit you, them and a goat in one go.”

Finn looked unsure.

Kurt popped in, “Relevance?”

Burt’s eyes raked over Kurt in his sweater, eyes lingering on the length of it, the way it fitted across his hips, and the too obvious curve of his figure. “You haven’t let Finn drive the Navigator since he took out our mailbox, half of Mrs. Tillman’s fence and three trashcans. So I know you were there. I know you were the one driving, and that you probably played lookout, and that you likely coordinated the whole thing.”

Kurt shared a look with Finn. His brother had covered for him without being asked to, days earlier when Finn, Noah Puckerman and several other of the football players had become bent on revenge. Kurt had never really thought that Finn would sell him up the river, they were closer than most siblings were, and desperately loyal to each other, but Kurt’s name had never come out of Finn’s mouth when the goat had been discovered in the basement of their house. And neither had any of the other boys involved implicated him, even when they’d received their punishment and had the last bit of their summer vacation destroyed. Kurt hadn’t asked why not, and he wasn’t sure if he owed his freedom to Finn or Dave.

A bit awkwardly, Kurt said to his father, “We did miss the bus.”

Burt fished around in pocket for a moment before he pulled out a familiar key chain and tossed it at Kurt. “To school and then home and that is it. You both should know how lucky you are that the police think the school rivalry is a funny thing. So try and keep things civil this year and don’t steal any more goats.”

Finn embraced Burt suddenly and nearly ran to the door, calling back, “Come on, Kurt! I want to see Quinn before class!”

Kurt embraced Carole quickly and then followed the action with a hug to his father, the keys to the car he shared with Finn still clutched in his palm. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Home by five,” Burt reminded. “And don’t skip out on your Cheerio practice to spend time with Dave and think I won’t know.”

Kurt could still smell his father’s aftershave even after he’d pulled back and wandered to the kitchen table to pick up his school bag. “Dad,” Kurt said with a shake of his head. “Dave has football practice, the same as Finn.”

There was a scowl on his father’s face and Kurt departed quickly.

“So,” Finn offered when they’d been in the car less than five minutes, “how about we rule the school this year?” They lived no more than fifteen minutes from school and Kurt couldn’t really remember them talking much in the car the previous year. Their mornings were mostly filled with Kurt gulping down too hot coffee in a thermos that his father thought was filled with orange juice and Finn sleeping against the window.

“It’s high school,” Kurt said skeptically, “not the world.”

Finn shot him a look. “Why do you do that?” Finn demanded, an edge to his tone.

“Do what?”

Finn sunk down a little in his seat. “Pretend like you don’t like being popular.”

Kurt glanced from the road to him, then quickly back. “Who said I didn’t?”

“Whatever.” Finn waved a hand in his direction.

Swallowing down too honest words, instead Kurt said, “No, Finn, you’re right. This is our year.”

A bright smile split across Finn’s face. “Been working for this for years, it’s gonna be awesome.” Finn turned nearly completely to him. “The Titans are actually going to win a game this year. Me and Quinn, we’ll be in the prom court, probably prom queen and king. And you’ll make perfect grades, and Quinn will put in a good word for you for Sylvester next year. We’ll go to a ton of parties and totally not get caught pranking Lincoln High and keep Puck out of juvie.”

“Some of those aspirations are shady at best.”

Finn knocked his fist playfully into Kurt’s shoulder. “Face it, this is going to be the best year ever for me, and it’ll pave the way for you to have the best year next year. I’ll be top dog this year, and next year it’ll be your turn.”

Frowning a little, Kurt asked, “Is popularity that important to you?” It was to Kurt, no matter how he denied it when pressed by Finn, but Finn always seemed a bit of a different story. Finn liked being popular but rarely Kurt heard him talk about its importance to him.

Finn could only shrug. “What’s that mean? Dude, I don’t want to be unpopular. You know what happens to the unpopular kids.”

Kurt shuddered a little and looked down instinctively at his clothing. He couldn’t imagine it being ruined. He worked hard at his father’s shop for his clothing allowance. And most of what he owned was delicate, dry clean only. He couldn’t stomach the idea of his clothing being ruined, or being humiliated in such a way.

“True,” Kurt conceded. Then he asked, “Hey, Finn, what’re you going to do when you graduate? I mean, what are you and Quinn going to do?”

His face was blank for a moment and Kurt wondered if he’d been clear enough. His brother wasn’t what Kurt would call intelligent. Finn struggled with school, and Kurt knew it was his status on the football team that helped him pass his classes with descent grades most of the time. Sometimes Kurt needed to repeat himself with Finn.

“I’m probably going to State,” Finn said easily enough. “I guess she’ll come with me. She’s smart like you, Kurt. She’ll get in on her grades. Then we’ll get married and stuff. Have kids. Whatever.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Kurt pressed. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting Finn to say, or what he wanted him to. Kurt liked Quinn. She could be a little rough on the edges, and on her worst days an absolute bitch, but he’d known her since his childhood. She could also be exceedingly kind. His friendship with her was something that had taken a while to build up, but was important to him. She was complex, as complex as he was, and he was sure that was why they meshed at the end of the day. They understood each other.

Finn asked, “What’s not okay?”

“Nothing,” Kurt waved off. In the end, it did seem appropriate. Finn and Quinn had been an item since elementary school. They’d gone off and on for nearly a decade, and Kurt had always suspected that it meant something. It was just … Kurt had been dating Dave officially for the better part of two years and he couldn’t imagine himself ending up with Dave after graduation. He cared deeply for Dave, and was with him primarily because they went so well together, but Kurt couldn’t lie to himself and say he imagined spending the rest of his life with Dave.

By the time they arrived at school there were only a few moments to spare before the first bell, and Finn was gone in a flash, promising to text him before lunch. Instead of following his brother’s example Kurt took his time to straighten out his clothes and make himself presentable before heading towards the front doors of the school.

He made a quick stop at his locker to deposit that month’s hair products into the allotted space. He caught his reflection in the small mirror that hung on the open door and fretted a moment over his hair. After pancakes that morning he’d gone back up to his room for his morning ritual. There hadn’t really been time for it all, and now, as Kurt looked more intensely at his hair, it became more apparent he’d need to get up earlier. His appearance was something he had always taken pride in, and regardless of anything else going on in his life, he needed to maintain it.

“Is that Ralph Lauren?”

Kurt was startled a bit by the soft voice. He pushed at his bangs once more, capped his hairspray and pulled back from locker to glance at the girl near him. He’d seen her around a bit. She was black and pretty, but Kurt didn’t know anything more than that about her, which told him immediately that they ran in different social circles. He took a better look at her; she dressed in a chic way that had him a little envious, and her confidence seemed authentic, and not at all like his own which was forced and maybe a little less than genuine.

Slowly he shook his head. “No. It’s Fendi.”

“Oh.” He thought that might be all she said to him, but then after a second more, she remarked, “It’s just that I saw that same sweater in the Spring collection for Ralph Lauren’s new line. You know the line that just showed in Milan.”

He found himself nodding quickly, and responding, “I know exactly which one you’re talking about. The lead in, the purple and black dress, it was my absolutely favorite. Lauren should have closed with that dress. It was by far the best of the collection.”

The girl shook her quickly, combating, “The line is about transformation. Lauren isn’t Mizrahi. He actually makes sense. Lauren knew he had to close with a lighter, fresher look. It would have been pointless to let that slinky dress be the big wow factor.”

“Oh, God,” Kurt gushed, happiness bubbling up in him, “You’re so right, Mizrahi is a mess. One would think he doesn’t have a vision.” Kurt gestured down at his navy sweater. “This is Fendi. It’s a season old, but I felt it didn’t get the recognition it deserved last year. You could say I’m paying homage to it. I think Fendi was a trendsetter last year, because everyone from Vera to Calvin, and Lauren, are going for this look this season.”

She laughed, and it was a wonderful laugh. Kurt hadn’t really heard anything like the laugh she gave, outside of his mother, in what felt like forever. It was an airy laugh, light and effortless and Kurt just wanted to hear it again. He gave her a broad smile and said, “I’m Kurt.”

“I know,” she offered. “Kurt Hummel. Everyone knows who you are.”

He hated the sound of that. He knew he couldn’t keep his name out of the mouths of other people, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t bothered by the gossip he knew was running rampant. He didn’t want attention drawn to him, but she was saying it in a way that made him think there was a chance his name was coming up more than he had originally thought. Or maybe it was just with her. She seemed to appreciate fashion. Maybe she’d taken note of his clothing and was just desperate to have a decent conversation with him about it.

“I don’t know you,” he offered, trying not to sound contrite.

“Mercedes Jones.” She cocked her hip to one side, hands on her hips, and he was finally able to appreciate her outfit completely. He couldn’t name the pieces, but they were expertly put together. “We had math together last year.”

He only nodded mutely. Math had been his last period of the day the year before, and frankly, the most boring part of his day. He’d shared the class with both Finn and Dave, and between the two of them, and Puckerman, he was usually too distracted to notice the other people in it. Kurt recalled fondly that he’d spent most of the year passing notes back and forth with Finn, and trying not to elbow Dave in the ribs when he nodded off.

“So,” Kurt offered awkwardly, aware of the bell and how it would ring at any moment, “you like fashion?”

She closed her own locker; it was only a bit down from his own. It made him wonder if their lockers had always been so close. Had he gone two years at McKinley and never noticed her before?

“Not the name brands and all that,” she added, “that part seems pointless to me, you know? I know the big players, but that’s about it. I like matching stuff together, and I like shopping.”

“I love shopping too,” Kurt was quick to note. “Finn hates it. I usually have to blackmail him into it, and that’s on a good day. I think the only time he willingly goes is when I promise him a pretzel and Jamba Juice.”

At that Mercedes cracked a smile. “Do you shop at the mall? I try and find the good stuff there, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

A letterman’s jacket passed by and Kurt glanced at him briefly, trying to put a name to the face. He’d seen the male hanging out with Finn a few times but couldn’t recall anything past that. But it was the quick jerk of the football player’s head that caught Kurt off guard. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but then the male was gone and Kurt could barely remember Mercedes’ question.

Finally, he came to his senses and was able to answer, “I shop mostly in Columbus. It’s bigger and has a better selection. Prices are higher, but fashion knows no limits.” He hesitated, and then offered, “If you like shopping and I like shopping, maybe we could go shopping together sometime. In fact, I was planning on making a trip up to Columbus this weekend.”

There was a flash of something dark across her face and he couldn’t place what it meant. But she was quick to say, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

Kurt frowned. “You don’t want to?”

“It’s not that.”

The bell rang loudly and Kurt closed his locker. “Okay.” He had another five minutes to get to class but his first period was only around the corner. Still, the air between himself and Mercedes had so suddenly become thick that he couldn’t wait to get away from her. The bell seemed as good of an excuse as anything else.

“Kurt.” She reached out for him, without touching, and it was enough to stop him from moving. “I want to, I just don’t think your brother would approve.”

Kurt’s mouth fell open a little, and he repeated, “Finn won’t approve? Mercedes forgive me, but I lack the ability to see how Finn has any part of what you and I choose to do. He’s my brother, not my father. And furthermore, I don’t run things past him.”

She closer her own locker door and looked frustrated. “You can’t not know.”

“Not know what?” He felt as frustrated as she looked. “What does Finn have to do with this?”

“We’re just different.”

“Mercedes--”

It was his turn to reach out for her this time, and he’d nearly snagged her sleeve when suddenly there was a deep laugh and a spray of blue.

It took Kurt a moment to realize that the wave of blue was a slushie, and that it was covering Mercedes. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and her body was incredibly tense. Her beautiful, impeccably fashioned clothes were ruined, and even her white shoes were now colored.

“Score!”

Kurt looked to the owner of the voice and could see Noah Puckerman high-fiving the football player from earlier. There were empty slushie cups in both hands and matching smug looks that Kurt had always hated.

“Mercedes,” Kurt whispered, suddenly unable to process the sight in front of him.

“Don’t,” she said sharply, and spun away, stalking towards the bathroom.

“Welcome back, geek!” Puckerman called after her.

“Noah Puckerman!” Kurt turned on him angrily, fists clenching. The other football player deserted them immediately and Kurt paid him no mind, turning his attention to the handsome boy he’d known since childhood. “What is wrong with you? Has your brain completely deserted you? What gives you the right to--”

“Chill,” Puckerman said, tossing the empty slushie cup towards a nearby trashcan. It bounced on the rim, but eventually slid in.

“Puckerman!” Kurt grabbed at the front of his shirt. “I asked you a question.”

Puck caught Kurt’s soft hands easily and asked carefully, “Did I get any on you?” There was a swagger to his tone and body language that had Kurt rolling his eyes. “Well, princess? Did I mess up your shirt dress thing?”

At the sudden question Kurt look down at his own clothing. He’d been standing near Mercedes, but not as close as he could have been. And after a moment he was thankful to see that he remained now as impeccable as before the slushing had happened. “No.”

Puck shrugged. “Then what’s the problem?”

And he was at a loss for words, because it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d seen a kid slushied. It happened all the time. It happened several times a day. Puck did it, Dave did it, and Kurt had even seen Finn do it from time to time. It was a hazing or sorts, something accepted and condoned as a part of high school life. Kurt thought it was wrong, but he was also incredibly aware that there were only a few, sacred things keeping him from experiencing the frozen slap of liquid himself. If things had been different, if he and Finn weren’t so close, if he and Dave weren’t dating, if he wasn’t a Cheerio, if only a couple of things were different, it could have been him to have the slushie thrown on him.

“Princess?”

“Why did you do it?”

Puck seemed as if he’d lost the ability to speak completely, then he said, nonchalant and slinging an arm around Kurt’s shoulders, “Natural order of things. The geeks have to know their place. Nothing has changed from last year. If we let them think we’re going to go easy on them we may have an uprising. I guarantee you, Finn and all the other guys are going to do their part.”

Kurt found himself mumbling, “It’s not right.”

“You like being at the top, right?”

The hallway was clearing quickly, and the tardy bell was fast approaching, but Kurt’s feet felt so heavy. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave Puck without a real answer.

“Well, Princess,” Puck drawled out, ignoring the glare Kurt sent at him with the moniker, “I’ll answer for you, because I know you like things just the way they are, even if you can’t admit it. You like having the best, being the best, and getting the best. You’re a prissy bitch, Kurt. If you had to vacate your precious lunch table in the shade so the band geeks could have it, I think you’d shit a brick.”

Kurt crossed his arms. “You’re an asshole, Puck.”

“And,” Puck continued, “what about all those perks you get as a Cheerio? People get the fuck out of your way. They give you what you want. You actually have some of the freshmen eating out of the palm of your hand, begging you to talk Sylvester into getting them on the team. People look at you and they talk. They say that’s Finn Hummel’s little brother, and they back the fuck off. That’s because he’s at the top, and that means you are too. Tell me to my face that you’d give that up so some loser doesn’t get slushied in the face once or twice a day.”

“Did I mention you’re an asshole?”

Puck shrugged at Kurt. “Call me all the names you want. The fact is, you want us to play nice, but you don’t like what the means for you in the end.”

Kurt gnawed a little on his bottom lip, and then asked, “If Finn wasn’t my brother, would you have thrown that into my face?” He meant to ask if his popularity was dependent on Finn. Finn was exceedingly charismatic, and Kurt knew in that department, he could never measure up. But Kurt was hesitant to think that Finn was the whole reason Kurt was always a spectator and never a victim.

“Depends,” Puck asked honestly. “Still a Cheerio?”

Kurt heard himself make a small noise and bent forward a bit, the single, blueberry pancake from earlier threatening to come up.

Puck’s hand was heavy and unwelcome on his shoulder as Kurt tried to keep his balance. He told the younger boy, “It’s nothing. Not really. You think I wouldn’t be getting tossed in dumpsters if I wasn’t a football stud?”

Kurt straightened back up. “But you know it isn’t right?”

“It’s four years,” Puck offered, hitching his bag up on his shoulder. “Four years and then half of us go to college, the lucky half, and actually make something of ourselves. We get away and stay the hell away from this place. I’m guessing you’re part of that. The other half stay here, pop out some kids and start the cycle all over again. It’s just four years. Who cares? Get over it. Two days from now you won’t even remember that chick’s name. And two hours from now, when Sylvester is yelling at you about your pear hips, you won’t remember the slushie at all.”

His voice was a little shaky as he said, “You know Finn said he’d beat you up if you mentioned my hips again.” But there was also something liberating about Puck daring to mention it. Everyone was so careful with him, with what they said to him, and Puck wasn’t. It was nice, actually.

Puck gave a serious nod. “Whatever. Okay, I’m gonna go have a smoke behind the bleachers. Wanna join? I won’t tell Finn.”

Kurt’s face scrunched up. “Smoking, Puckerman? I don’t think so.”

Puck rolled his eyes. “You know I hate it when you call me that. My mom calls me that.”

“Noah,” Kurt corrected, their history speaking volumes for them. “And no, I would not like a cigarette. And you should be thankful I don’t tell Beiste you’re smoking. You know she’d make you run laps for that, until your lungs feel like they’ll explode.”

“No worse than when Sylvester caught Santana smoking pot that one time.”

Kurt winced at the memory. “She was stuck at the bottom of the pyramid for months. And Sylvester had her clean out her septic tank. She smelled forever.”

“Yeah,” Puck whistled out, “I heard about it forever.”

“I’m going to be late,” Kurt told him, inching his way away. “See you at lunch?”

Puck nodded, and was nearly on his way when he jerked a thumb down the long hallway. Kurt followed the motion and could see Quinn, looking stunning at usual, and another, tall boy with her. Even from a distance Kurt could make out his blond hair, handsome features and attractiveness.

“New?” Kurt offered.

“Evans,” Puck filled him in. “Sam Evans. He’s a junior. Transferred in from New Jersey. His dad is in the military, so they move around a lot.” It didn’t surprise Kurt that Puck knew about him. Puck made it his business to know everything about everyone.

Quinn gave them a wave and Kurt waved back, feeling himself flush as he met Sam’s eyes. He couldn’t tell the color from the distance, but he could feel the ferocity behind them.

“Don’t get any ideas.” Puck pinched Kurt’s arm.

The second bell sounded and Kurt demanded, “What’s that mean?”

Quinn and Sam were gone a moment later and Puck said, “New guy has a slushie facial at noon. I wouldn’t be around him at that time, especially if he’s going to look at you like that.”

“Like that?”

Puck’s head cocked to the side. “You know like what. I’ve done my fair share of mentally undressing girls. I know it when I see it, and you’re red enough in your face that I know for a fact you felt it. And I mean it, don’t go trailing after him. It won’t end well.”

“And why’s that?” Kurt tapped his foot impatiently.

Puck laughed a little. “Because, like I said, he’s got a date with slushie, and Karofsky has the honors this time.”

 

__________________________

September 30, 1998

His father was going to marry Carole Hudson. That was what Kurt knew. Because his father was nothing if not honest with him, and Burt had told him firmly that Kurt deserved to know as soon as they settled the matter. Kurt still ached terribly for his mother, and he’d thrown quite a fit when he’d been stricken with the idea of Carole replacing her, but a good, long talk had smoothed out the worst of it, and Kurt was almost looking forward to the wedding.

The wedding meant a bigger house, and Kurt was going to wear a special suit for the occasion. Carole wasn’t going to replace his mother, but she was going to be a mother to him. That was okay. And in addition, he was getting a brother.

Kurt liked Finn. He’d liked him from the moment they’d met, when Kurt had thrust his hand out and announced, “I’m Kurt Elizabeth Hummel,” and then waited impatiently for Finn to shake his hand in return and introduce himself. His father’s gaze had felt heavy on his back but Kurt hadn’t wavered. He’d known, even before there had been talk of a wedding, far before talk of anything; Finn was going to be important to him.

Finn had said, “Kurt Elizabeth? That’s totally a girl’s name.” But it hadn’t been a mean tone, or an accusing one. It was only curious.

“Yes. Kurt Elizabeth. My mommy thought I was a girl. The doctor told her so. My name was going to be Elizabeth. So don’t you make fun of me. It’s not my fault.” And he kind of liked it. It was a pretty name, and even more importantly, his mother had given it to him.

“Everyone calls me Finn,” the much taller of the two of them had said effortlessly, awkwardly shaking Kurt’s still outstretched hand. “But my real name is Finnegan. It’s a family name.” He made a sour face. “So you don’t make fun of me and I won’t make fun of you.”

It had, for all intents and purposes, been the start of a beautiful relationship.

The important thing was that they established a routine. On Wednesdays Carole picked the both of them up from the nearby Elementary school. They were in different grades, and shared neither a class nor recess period, but they’d started drifting together after the final bell rang, and would usually end up together on the school’s main playground.

Finn was rough and loud and busy. Kurt liked to watch him, but not really participate. Kurt valued both his dignity and his clothing much too much to roll around in the dirt like Finn did. Kurt liked the monkey bars and the swings, but not much else. Mostly he was content to wait for Carole, who always drove them afterwards for ice cream before heading to the auto shop.

But then one day Carole was late. Finn slipped a dirty hand across Kurt’s shoulders and promised, “She’s probably still at work. Sometimes they’re really busy and she has to stay extra late. She told me just to stay here. It’ll be okay, Kurt.” Carole was a nurse, which was a pretty big job in Kurt’s opinion. She saved lives. She made Kurt feel safe. He liked to think that if Carole had been there, that day when his mother died, that she could have saved her. It was a conflicting thought, one that Kurt didn’t share with anyone, not even his father.

“But she’s really late,” Kurt protested, looking down at the watch on his wrist. Most kids couldn’t tell time as well as Kurt, Finn couldn’t and he was older, but Kurt tried not to hold that over anyone’s head.

Finn gripped his wrist instead and dragged him towards the nearby jungle gym. “We just have to play for a little. Then she’ll be here, and we can get ice cream. I think I’m gonna get two scoops this time.”

Kurt’s face scrunched up. “You’ll make yourself sick again, Finn.”

Finn ignored the statement and pulled on Kurt again, forcing him into the sandbox and towards the highest tower on the jungle gym. He asked, “What do you want to play? I like to play Pirates the best. What do you like to play?”

“I don’t want to get dirty,” Kurt nearly whined.

“Finn!”

Kurt turned just in time to see a tan boy streaking towards them. Kurt pressed closer to Finn, fingers brushing up at his would be brother’s hand as he recognized the boy. Noah Puckerman was trouble. Kurt didn’t know him personally, but he’d heard the other kids talk, and they said Puckerman could be mean. They said to stay away, so Kurt did. He just hadn’t been aware that Finn knew him, or that they were friends.

“Puck!”

The boy stopped in front of them and gave Kurt a hard look. “Who’s that?” His expression was less than forgiving.

Kurt kind of idolized Finn. He was funny and good at the see-saw and made everyone happy. He wasn’t too smart, but he made up for it in other ways. He was a good person, and he’d never been mean to Kurt, even when Kurt was mean to him. They’d spent the night at each other’s houses before and Finn had stayed awake with him well into the morning hours when Kurt had admitted to being afraid of the dark house. And they’d played Ninja Turtles together and had epic fights with their Power Rangers and Kurt really thought they were friends. But a part of him, a part that made his chest hurt, made him wonder if this was the moment when Finn deserted him. Most people did, sooner or later. Kurt had always wondered about Finn.

But then Finn said, “This is my brother Kurt.” Finn had rambled on quickly about how they weren’t actually brothers, they had different parents, but they were going to be. And he was going on about how swell he thought Kurt was right around the time Puck commented meanly on Kurt’s red bowtie, shinny black shoes and delicate form.

“Finn,” Kurt mumbled, unsure what to say, still somewhat shaken by Finn’s open declaration of their relation.

Then Finn was gone. He was gone from Kurt’s side and rolling around viciously with Puck, pulling at his shirt, kicking up sand and demanding that Puck take his words back.

Finn got to his feet after a minute or two, breathing hard, and moved right back to Kurt’s side. He thundered, “You take it back, Noah Puckerman. Kurt is the coolest ever. He knows everything about everything, and he has the best ideas and he’s really smart. He’s my brother and you take it back or I’m going to beat you up.”

Puck was sporting a flushed face and a cheek that looked like it might swell. He snapped, “You hit me!”

“He’s my brother,” Finn said plainly.

There was a tense moment wherein Kurt wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. Maybe Puck and Finn were going to fight again, or maybe their friendship would be over. All Kurt knew was that Finn was the best brother ever, and he wasn’t going to give him up for anything.

Finally, Puck said, “Okay.” And that was it.

A smile broke on Finn’s face and he suggested, “Miss March read us this really awesome story today about a knight and a dragon and a princess. We should play that.”

Puck shrugged. “Fine, but I get to be the dragon.”

Finn’s arm settled once more around Kurt’s shoulders. “I’m the knight. I thought the game up so I get to be whatever I want to, and that’s what I want.”

Kurt blushed prettily and tried not to think in that moment of how he’d changed his mind. Maybe it was more of a curse that Finn was destined to be his brother and never anything more.

Smugly, Puck said, “Guess that makes you the princess, Kurt.”

Kurt scowled at him. And it was years before the nickname Puck had given him that day, which stuck all too easily, turned more into an endearing term than a taunt.

 

________________________

August 28, 2009

 

Kurt had two classes, English and History, before the pep rally. He changed into his uniform in the locker room, the few other male Cheerios on the team scattered around, barely paying him any attention. Kurt tried not to let his mind wander, instead concentrating on remembering his choreography. There was more of it this year, and it was harder than ever, and Kurt didn’t look forward to whatever punishment Sylvester was capable of thinking up if he ruined her routine with a misstep.

When it was half past ten Kurt bent to retie his shoelaces, then made his way out into the hallway behind the gymnasium. Nearly all of the other Cheerios were present and Kurt went directly to Quinn at the head of the line, bypassing a sulking Santana and a scatterbrained Brittany.

“Hey,” Quinn greeted him, hugging him gently. They hadn’t really seen each other since the pervious school year. Kurt had gone away for the summer, and aside from the party at Quinn’s when he’d come home, they’d really kept their distance from each other. That was Finn’s doing. Kurt knew without having to be told. And even if Finn had claimed the grudge had passed, he knew his brother was carrying a chip on his shoulder over the whole mess with Quinn. He hadn’t forgiven her completely. He still blamed her.

In reality, most of the Cheerios had kept a respectable distance from each other after the previous year’s meltdown. But Kurt had missed Quinn more than any of them . He’d known her just as long as Finn had, and been friends for nearly that long as well. She was like his big sister, he usually came to her when he needed to vent, and he was going to enjoy being related to her when she and Finn eventually married.

“Nervous?” Kurt asked.

She flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and smiled. “Not even close, Kurt. How about you?” There was a gold lace to her uniform, subtle against the white and red of the lettering. She’d worked hard for her position as head Cheerio, but Kurt relished in the idea of having that same gold touch to his own uniform the next year.

He breathed out, “Terrified.” He’d been a Cheerio for two years, and a flier for nearly as long. He was used to simple choreography. At pep rallies and competitions his biggest worries had been the trust placed in the strong arms of his base. But those days were gone now, and he was suddenly front and center. He stood next to Santana now, in the first row, and had nowhere to hide.

“Don’t be.” Quinn’s fingers brushed his own.

Sylvester’s voice echoed down the hallway and Kurt tensed. “If she doesn’t back off this year … if anything happens …” He broke off, smoothing his hands nervously down his uniform. “I’m lucky I’m still a Cheerio, Quinn. If she lays into me at all this year, or like she did last, my dad will pull me. I don’t want that to happen. I can’t believe my parents let me back on to begin with.”

She pointed out, “I’m sure your dad will have Finn stalking Cheerios practices to make sure Sylvester isn’t picking on you.”

Kurt nodded. “Only, you know Finn. I can’t imagine it’ll be me, he’ll be looking at.”

Quinn laughed. “You can’t blame an eighteen year old, completely straight, hormonal boy for getting distracted watching over a dozen girls dance around in tiny outfits.”

Kurt was silent in his agreement. He let his shoulder bump into Quinn’s. People called her a bitch. They said she was stuck up, judgmental and icy at best. They adored her, aspired to be her, and all the while judged her. Kurt understood why, and it was for the same reasons they spoke about him in the same way. But she was his friend. He understood her. He knew why she acted the way she did. And he wondered what he’d do without her the following year when she and Finn were off at college and he was left to combat with Santana threatening him for the head Cheerio position.

After a minute more Kurt said, “Noah and I saw you with that new guy earlier today.”

“Sam Evans,” she volunteered easily enough. “Principal Figgins asked me to show him around a bit in the morning.”

“What’s he like?” Kurt hoped he hadn’t asked too quickly, but the smirk on Quinn’s face said he had.

“You mean,” she corrected, “do I think he’s cute?”

Kurt knew he was flushing then. His face was hot, his palms were sweating and he wanted to be anywhere else.

Quinn continued, “The answer is yes, of course. I’m a tried and true authority on handsome boys. My taste is refined, and Sam Evans is one sweet tasting wine.”

Scandalized, Kurt demanded, “Quinn!”

She rolled her eyes and waved a hand at him. “I showed him where his first class was, told him who sits where during lunch and let him know to start bringing a change of clothes for the next few weeks, at least if he isn’t going to assert his male dominance, and quickly.” She added, “And for the record, even if I was interested, he wouldn’t feel that way about me. He plays for your team, not mine.”

“He’s gay then?” Kurt had only dared to hope. Aside from Dave Karofsky, and a few, often secretive other students, the gay population was drastically low at McKinley. There weren’t a lot of options. Of course, Kurt was happy with Dave, how could he not be, but Sam … he opened the playing field a bit. He introduced a new option. And even if he was unrealistic, it gave Kurt a new daydream, and a handsome one at that.

“I told him to stay away from you.”

Kurt turned sharply to her. “Say what, Quinn?”

She raised an eyebrow. “He was asking all these questions about you. He wanted to know who you were, and what grade you were in, and if I knew you well.”

“So?” Kurt’s heart was beating a bit faster.

Quinn scoffed, “Today, around lunch time, the worst that’s going to happen to Sam is that Dave and Azimio and maybe a couple more of their meathead buddies are going to give Sam a slushie facial. He’s tall and he looks pretty strong, so he may escape a dumpster toss or locker slam. As of right now, Sam will get off easy. But can you imagine what’s going to happen if he takes an interest in you?”

Kurt leaned back against the hallway wall. “Nothing I want to happen to him. He seemed nice.”

“You barely breathed the same air as him.” She poked him in the shoulder. “But I know you understand what I’m saying. It’s just … it’s best if things go this way, and you know it.”

A sharp screech from a bullhorn had Kurt jumping a moment later, and the Cheerio’s coach came barreling down toward the front of the line. Her face was pinched; her posture threatening and Kurt pressed himself back against the wall, hoping to avoid her line of sight.

“Hummel!” She stopped in front of him, naturally, and eyed him for a moment. Kurt wondered if she’d start yelling again. After her confrontation with his father five months earlier she’d eased up on him. There had still been screaming, and threats, and overall abuse, but it hadn’t been on the level he knew she was capable of. And she’d never crossed the line again. In fact she hadn’t even come close to toeing it.

“Coach?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed. “You missed the last two practices. I noticed. Don’t think for second, sweet porcelain, that you’re any less messed up than the flock of hungry, selfish, sniveling and spoiled little monsters surrounding you. No preferential treatment. I should hang you out to dry by the tighty whities I know you wear.”

She was humiliating him on purpose, because she knew where he’d been. And she knew why. She also knew it was her fault, but Kurt wasn’t about to point that out.

Instead of snapping back, he offered, “I know my routine. I won’t mess up. Quinn worked with me all day yesterday to make it perfect.”

Sylvester’s gaze shifted over to Quinn. “That right, Q?”

Exuding confidence, Quinn answered, “He’s ready.”

“Mess up my rally,” Sylvester said, her finger dangerous closer to Kurt’s face, “and you’ll know what it feels like to have half a dozen teenage girls fall on you when I deliberately knock down the pyramid.”

Kurt gulped loudly and nodded.

Sylvester turned on her heel, already shouting about something else, and Kurt breathed a sigh of relief.

“You are ready,” Quinn repeated, touching his elbow. “Don’t doubt yourself.” When he nodded, she mentioned, “And even if you completely blow it, knock a couple girls down, ruin the rally and manage to evade Sylvester for it, Finn will still tell you that he thought you did a good job, and it’ll be the truth coming from him.”

Kurt straightened up. “Okay. Let’s go be awesome.”

“As if we could be anything else.”

Much to Kurt’s relief, the rally did go well. The rallies always went well, as long as the Cheerios were involved. And twenty minutes after it began, Kurt found himself back in the locker room, picking up his things while he could hear the echoing of the continuing rally as Finn tried to rouse the school up for the first football game. He knew his brother would be at it for a while longer, and then there would be a speaker from each of the main sports teams and clubs. Kurt took his time freshening up, and appreciated the fact that he didn’t need to return to the auditorium.

He went to math after the rally, which was uneventful and maybe even boring, and then headed directly to his Biology class. He stopped in the doorway when he spotted Sam Evans at one of the lab tables, his chin on his hand, looking out the nearby window. He looked lonely and even though Quinn had been right about them keeping their distance, he couldn’t help making his way over to the blond.

“So you’re new then? Sam Evans?”

Sam startled and turned towards him, his mouth open a bit, eyes wide. “You …”

Kurt smiled patiently. “I’m Kurt Hummel.”

Sam cleared his throat, then asked, “How’d you know I was new? It’s the first day of school. Everyone is new.”

There was a free chair next to Sam, and Kurt put his bag down on the lab countertop, giving the other boy more than enough time to object before Kurt slid into the seat. He crossed one leg over the other carefully, mindful of his uniform, and then said, “I know everyone at this school.”

Sam gave him a look of open disbelief. “This school has like a thousand people at it. I doubt you know them all.”

“Seven hundred or so,” Kurt corrected, “and believe it or not, I know most of them. I’m not saying we’re friends, but I make it a point to know people. Other than the incoming freshmen, who are pretty easy to spot, I can put names to faces. Or at least recognize them. You don’t strike me as a freshman, so I took an educated guess that you were new. I am correct, right?”

“Oh,” Sam said, a bit dumbfounded. Then he nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. My folks and I moved in about a month ago. How about we call me semi new? I’ve had a couple weeks to get used to this place. It’s a lot different from where I lived before.”

Sam Evans, Kurt decided, had kind eyes.

“And,” Kurt admitted, “Quinn told me you were new and she was showing you around. Noah also knew. He was the guy who was with me earlier today. But don’t mind Noah, he just makes it his business to know everything. He says it helps him keep ahead of the curve, but personally I think he’s just nosey.”

“You sure talk fast.”

Kurt pulled back a little, worried he’d overstepped. Finn was always saying, Kurt could come on too strong. He could go too hard. He was too much. It wasn’t always a bad thing, but it could be overwhelming. “I can go.” Kurt reached for his bag. But then Sam’s hand was laying over his, stilling it. The hand was warm and heavy and Kurt sucked in air suddenly. “No?”

“No,” Sam agreed. Then he released Kurt’s hand. “I was just saying, that’s all. I don’t want you to go.”

Trying to salvage the moment, Kurt said, “Biro is teaching Biology this year. He’s a tough grader. How are you at science?”

Sam leaned a little closer and Kurt could smell his aftershave. It was a much different smell from the scent that Kurt had always thought he preferred. Dave wore something heavier, and Finn something a little muskier. But Sam’s smell was nice, and so was the fact that while Sam’s hand had retracted from his, it was still dangerously close. Their fingers were nearly touching.

“Are you offering to be my lab partner?”

Kurt wanted to say yes. He really did. There was a churning in his stomach, the good kind, and a fluttering in his chest. He didn’t know what the feeling was, the anxious pleasure that rushed through him as Sam held his gaze, but Kurt liked it. It was exciting. It felt right, and Kurt didn’t want to give it up. But still, he had other things to think of, things that went beyond a sudden and unwanted schoolboy crush.

Kurt repeated, “How are you at science?” He elaborated, “I have my GPA to think of. My brother had Biro for Biology last year and he told me that Biro grades lab partners together, and on a curve. If I’m going to have you for my partner, I need to know you can pull your weight. I’m going to get out of this cow town one day. I’m going to go to the city. I’m going to college far away, and to do that, I need my GPA.”

Their fingers were touching. Kurt nearly stumbled over his words as he noticed.

Sam said, “Well, then, you have me, Kurt Hummel.”

The buzzing in Kurt’s ears was deafening.

Sitting next to Sam, as the class began, and trying to pay attention, was more of a struggle than Kurt had ever believed anything could be. He tried to scribble notes as the teacher spoke, but as class was nearing end Kurt took a closer look, he could see most of what he had written was gibberish. He felt defeated in a way.

The bell rang shortly after that and Kurt scrambled to put his notebook away before Sam could see any of what he’d written. The other boy didn’t seem to be as distracted as Kurt was. His confidence put Kurt to shame, and he was sure they had been flirting earlier.

“Lunch?” Sam asked, getting to his feet.

Kurt nodded and reminded himself that even if Sam was showing an interest, he had a boyfriend. He had Dave Karofsky, and he had all of the good and bad that went along with that. More importantly, he couldn’t take Dave back, or trade him in. Kurt had known, the moment he entered into the relationship, that he and Dave were going to be a couple, through whatever ups and downs they had, for as long as they were in high school. Sam’s arrival, and the fact that Sam had touched him on more than one occasion, meant nothing. The feelings Kurt thought he was beginning to have for the handsome blond meant nothing. They couldn’t mean anything.

“Yes,” Kurt answered. “Only fifty minutes, though. Most people stay on campus. It’s not really worth the drive to one of the only fast food places in town.”

“Where do you eat?” Sam asked. “Maybe you could show me. Or I could walk you there.”

Kurt averted his eyes. “I think Quinn showed you the cafeteria earlier today, right?”

“And maybe,” Sam ventured, “I want you to show me the way.”

Kurt meant to say that he had a boyfriend. He meant to be completely honest with Sam, but his books were heavy, and in his rush he lost his grip on them, his book bag sliding off his shoulder and nearly dragging him down with it.

“Here.” Sam reached out, and he lifted the bag over Kurt’s head. He slung it over his own shoulder and helped Kurt gather up his books. “How about I carry that for you. And then you can tell me more about you. Tell me your favorite color. Tell me what you like to watch on TV. Tell me how you got to be a cheerleader. Just tell me about you.”

“More about me?” Kurt squeaked out. Now he knew Sam was flirting. But the taller boy had his bag, and Kurt’s attention and all Kurt could think was how different Dave and Sam were. Dave never carried Kurt’s books, but then Kurt had never asked him to. It was different, and in an important way.

His mouth ran away from him and he asked, “What if I want to know more about Sam Evans?”

People were quickly exiting the room, but Kurt and Sam continued to linger.

Sam flashed white teeth. “All you had to do was ask.” Then Sam started off for the door and Kurt had no choice but to follow.

He’d just caught up to Sam, and was a moment behind him when he saw Sam freeze. He tensed, braced himself, and then cherry flavored slushie was sailing through the air, only to land on Sam.

“Welcome to McKinley!”

Kurt looked across the hallway to see Dave, the usually faithful Azimio nowhere to be found. But Puck was there, arms crossed, and so was another upperclassman.

Slowly, and with what looked like great restraint, Sam reached up and pushed at the slushie coving his eyes. He slicked it away and then blinked sharply, trying to clear his vision. He was sputtering a little and he’d dropped Kurt’s bag in his surprise, the leather satchel now stained with red liquid.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Sam demanded, “You can’t just … you …”

“Welcome to McKinley,” Puck repeated, then headed off down the hall, shoulders squared.

“David Alan Karofsky!”

Kurt surged past Sam, snagged his bag and demanded, “Are you touched in the head?”

“Babe,” Dave said with a laugh, hand curling easily around Kurt’s waist. “Sorry about the bag.”

“The bag?” Kurt demanded. His eyes flew back to Sam. The teen was beginning to recover and now he just looked confused, his eyes flickering from Dave to Kurt, and then back again. “I was only a second or two behind him. How do you think it’s okay to just throw slushies on people like that?”

Dave shrugged, nonchalant. “I wouldn’t have gotten you. I have your class schedule. I made sure it wasn’t you.” His eyes narrowed. “What was the new kid doing with your bag?”

Dave’s fingers were tight around Kurt’s waist, and dangerously close to being inappropriate on his hip. Kurt understood the hold for what it was.

“Tell him, Kurt,” Sam demanded, confusion falling away like the clumps of slushie in his hair.

Kurt sputtered, “He was helping me carry it, that’s what. I have a lot of books, and it’s not like you ever offered to carry any for me. Sam was being a gentleman. I was going to show him where the cafeteria is. That’s all.” Kurt seethed, “And this is my Gucci bag.”

Dave’s free hand fisted itself in his letterman’s jacket. “I’ll carry your bag for you. All you had to do was say something.” Kurt thought in that moment that he shouldn’t have had to.

“This your boyfriend, Kurt?” Sam asked. Now he looked hurt, and it wrenched at Kurt’s heart.

Kurt could only nod.

“That’s a slushie,” Dave elaborated. “It’s your very own, personalized with love, welcome to McKinley present. Stay out of my way, and stay away from my boyfriend, and it’ll be the only one you get. Or, give me a reason to give you another one. It’s your choice. Whatever.”

Sam’s sneakers slid on the floor a little, the new, white shoes completely ruined.

“I got it,” the blond said. “I have it crystal clear.” Sam’s chin rose defiantly and he told Kurt, “Actually, now that I think about it, I’m horrible at science. I wouldn’t want to drag you down, Kurt. I wouldn’t want to lie to you about anything important, or mislead you. So I’m going to ask Mr. Biro if I can get another partner for the year. Don’t worry. You’re saved.”

Kurt wanted to say something, but he couldn’t make anything to come out. Instead he watched in silence as Sam stalked away.

And once Sam was out of sight, it felt to Kurt like all of his strength returned to him. The football player who’d been a part of the slushing vanished and Kurt threw his elbow into Dave’s side, dislodging him. “You’re an asshole,” Kurt said firmly. “A real jerk, you know?”

“Fuck,” Dave hissed, doubling forward. “Christ, Kurt. I said I was sorry about the bag. I meant it. Look, I’ve been pulling extra hours at the gas station. I can buy you a replacement. It’s no big deal.”

“Not about that!”

Dave frowned, head cocked. “About slushying that new kid?”

“Sam’s nice!” Kurt defended, hands on his hips. “He was nice to me, and you ruined it.”

Still looking confused, Dave said, “It’s tradition, Kurt. It’s … you can’t say you didn’t know it was coming.”

He had. That was the worst of it. He’d known because Puck had told him, and still he hadn’t said anything to Sam. He should have, but it had slipped his mind, and then he’d gone and let everything spin out of control. Sam probably hated him, and Kurt couldn’t think of a way to explain himself.

Kurt ran a hand carefully through his hair, exhaling loudly and nodding slowly. “You’re right. I did. I knew, Dave. I’m …”

“Hey.” Dave pulled Kurt back against his side. “Like I said, whatever. Let’s go eat lunch.”

Kurt tucked in and let himself be led down the hall, and away from the red stain on the formally pristine, tiled floor. Maybe it was better to just let whatever had happened with Sam just end. Sam was going to be mad, and Kurt had been wrong, and there was little he could do to justify himself or fix things. Maybe, if he didn’t rock the boat with Dave, Sam would fade from the jock’s mind. It already seemed like that was a real possibility. Sam was a nice idea to entertain, but Kurt had Dave, and he had protection, and that was the way things needed to be.

Still, twenty minutes later as Kurt poked his yoghurt disinterestedly with a spoon and listened to Puck and Dave recount the slushie to Finn who laughed loudly, Kurt couldn’t help but wish things were different.

 

__________________________

 

November 21, 2003

Kurt knew a lot of things, and one of the most important was that for as much as his father loved him, that’s how different they were. They shared virtually none of the same interests, and while Kurt could say that his father indulged him frequently, probably more than he should have, there were things that they just didn’t do together. And because of that, Kurt was equal parts thankful and jealous for Finn.

Kurt couldn’t be the son that joined the junior football league that Burt had always wanted him to, but Finn could, and by the time Kurt was eleven, and Carole was mom, their problems were solved.

Twice a week Finn went to practice and Kurt did not. Burt took time off from the shop, three hours, exactly, and drove Finn down to the local high school for the practice time. And Kurt, who absolutely adored the fact that Carole let him parade around in her high heels and never made choked sounds like his father did, usually went shopping with her. On several occasions Kurt came home with a bag or two that made his father sit him down on his bed and remind him quite firmly that people could be mean, would be mean, and that some things were better left quiet. Kurt wasn’t sure what that meant, mostly because Finn and his parents kept most of the bad things in life away, but he nodded firmly and stored the newest article of clothing away for another day.

But then Finn had a game. And apparently it was something they all had to be at. Burt took the entire day off from the shop, Carole said there’d be no shopping, and Kurt sat still while his father rubbed suntan lotion over his skin and told him they’d be spending the day up at the local high school.

Kurt, though way past the appropriate age to do so, had thrown a fit.

“Doesn’t Finn go to the things that are important to you?” his father had asked. He’d shared a look with Carole and reminded, “We all went and saw Fiddler on the Roof for your birthday.”

Kurt crossed his arms. “Finn fell asleep. It doesn’t count.”

Carole said softly, “He’s been to every one of your piano recitals.”

“And,” Burt furthered, “you know he’s the first to back you up when you want to rent a romantic comedy from the movie store. Kurt, you know he hates those movies. Finn does things for you all the time, so you’re going to do this for him. And you’re not going to act like it’s because your mother and I forced you to.”

In the end, before Finn came charging through the door, in full gear and swearing up and down that he’d be late if they didn’t leave right away, Kurt asked, “Can I paint Finn’s number on my cheek?” Carole had plenty of red face paint, conveniently enough.

“I don’t understand the rules,” Kurt said an hour later. He and Carole were seated high on the high school’s west facing bleachers. Kurt could see his father further down, buying them drinks. Finn was out on the field, engrossed in whatever his coach was saying. Kurt tried not to feel put off because Finn had only turned and waved once. “But it looks stupid.”

Carole’s hand smoothed down his bangs. “I know, sweetheart. It isn’t my favorite game either. But remember, this is important to your brother, and you’re a terrific actor. So give it your best cheerleading effort.”

Kurt stiffened. “Cheerleading is stupid, too.”

“Alright,” Burt announced, coming up on Kurt’s right. He handed Carole a bottle of water and had a can of diet coke in the other.

“For me?” Kurt asked pleadingly. He adored diet coke, but his father was usually hesitant to give it to him. His mother usually folded long before his father, so it seemed a little unlikely that his father would have brought the drink for him.

Burt said nothing for a minute, then pressed the ice cold drink into Kurt’s hands. “You get one, buddy. And don’t press it. With my luck you’ll be bouncing off the ceiling tonight. Drink it slowly.”

Kurt hoarded the can close to his chest.

The football game seemed to go on forever for Kurt. The sun was hot, his coke was gone within minutes, and he was bored. But he suffered in silence, noting the way his father cheered louder for Finn than any of the other fathers, and the way Carole snapped pictures of Finn frantically.

Near what Kurt learned was the end of the game, he asked his father, “So Finn’s important, right?”

“Important?” Burt repeated. “He’s the quarterback. That’s the most important position.” Kurt regretted his words quickly after that, and was then subjected to more information of the game than he’d ever wanted to know.

But then it was over, and everyone was leaving and Kurt was rushing down to the nearby bathrooms, calling back to his father, “Be right back! The soda!”

On his way out of the bathroom he clipped the side of a red and white form, spinning them both around. Kurt nearly took a tumble, but then there was a firm hand on his arm and he was being pulled forward onto a solid chest.

“Sorry,” he barely got out, and looked up at the taller boy who’d caught him. He was handsome and smelled horrible, but that was almost surely because he was wearing the same uniform that Finn had been for the game. This was a boy who played on Finn’s team, but Kurt couldn’t remember seeing him out on the field.

“It’s okay,” the boy said. “You okay?”

Kurt nodded wordlessly.

The boy took a step away. The sudden awkwardness was terrible.

Finally Kurt asked, “Are you on the team?”

A smile blossomed immediately on the boy’s face and prideful he said, “I’m first string. My dad says that’s the most important. And I’m a defensive man. It’s my job to protect the other players--especially the quarterback. He has to throw the ball and I have to make sure he can.”

Excitedly, hands clapping together Kurt said, “My brother is the quarterback!”

“Your brother?” The boy’s eyebrows rose. “Finn’s your brother? I guess that makes you Kurt. He talks about you most of the time.”

Kurt pointed at his cheek, Finn’s number still displayed. “That’s me.”

“I’m Dave,” the boy offered shyly. “Me and Finn talk sometimes. But we go to different schools.”

Happily, Kurt complimented, “You guys won the game, and my dad said it’s because Finn threw lots of touchdowns. So if he did that, it means you protected him really good. That’s awesome.”

Dave looked down at his feet. “I was okay.”

“No,” Kurt insisted, reaching out for his hand. His fingers were cool and Dave’s were warm, but Kurt slid them together easily and held on tightly. “You were really, really awesome. I don’t know anything about football, but I know that. Maybe next game I can paint Finn’s number on one cheek and yours on the other.”

Dave’s fingers squeezed back. “You want to do that?”

Kurt laughed. “Sure.”

Dave’s head ducked once more, and Kurt was going to tell him not to be ashamed of being so awesome, but then Kurt was pressed back against the bathroom’s dirty wall. A leg slid in between his own and he was being kissed.

It lasted only a moment, was more chaste and desperate and awkward than anything else, and entirely too wonderful. Carefully, Kurt bought his hand up to Dave’s chest where it rested, and together they breathed in silence.

“What was that?” Kurt dared to ask. His lips were tingling and his heart was beating so hard it hurt. “You kissed me.”

Dave caught his hand, held it, and then took a step back. “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell, okay.”

“You kissed me,” Kurt said once more.

“I have to go!” Dave made a break for the door. He nearly ripped it from the hinges in his attempt to escape.

Kurt pressed full back against the wall and promised, “I’ll wear your number next time!” But Dave gave no reply that he’d heard, and was gone out the door just after that.

Two weeks from that day, at Finn’s next game, Kurt dutifully had Carole paint Finn’s number on his right cheek, and then Dave’s on the other.

Finn eyed him suspiciously for a moment, then commented, “That’s Dave Karofsky’s number.”

Kurt held still as Carole continued to paint, but did answer, “I have two cheeks, Finn.”

Finn huffed, “You’re only supposed to wear my number.”

Carole’s hand was steady as ever.

Burt twitched a bit.

___________________________

 

August 28, 2009

After lunch, where a year previously Kurt would have headed to his homeroom, he instead went to the guidance councilor’s office. In Kurt’s opinion, Emma Pillsbury had more problems than he did, but it had been a stipulation of his father’s to come back to school, and Kurt knew full well there was no dodging the mandatory hour sessions each day.

He settled into the seat across from her, let his bag slide to the ground and couldn’t help but linger on the stains dotting his bag.

“Kurt? How are you feeling today?”

Kurt slouched a little. “It’s the first day of school.”

“You participated in the pep rally today,” she observed.

The whole meeting felt useless to Kurt. He’d never considered her much of a guidance councilor, or of much help at all. He barely had any recollection of her over the past two years. He seriously doubted she knew anything about him, or why he was now seeing her five times a week. Though maybe that was the point. He could vent to her, she’d remain silent about whatever he said, and that would be the end of it.

Slowly he answered her, “I did participate. If you’re asking did Coach Sylvester try and accost me, or threaten me, then you can breathe easy. She didn’t do anything that would upset me. You don’t need to call my dad down here.”

Pillsbury made a small sound, then cleared her throat. “That’s good.”

“Furthermore,” Kurt said, “I doubt she’s going to, not after my dad came down here and threatened to take his blowtorch to her face.” He blanched a little. He made jokes now, and waved the idea off, but five months ago he’d been certain it was going to happen. He’d never seen his father look so murderous. He’d never seen him so upset, or so destroyed. He’d gone to jail, mainly to cool down and wait to see if Sylvester was going to press charges, but he had ended up in a cell for several hours.

Instead of pushing the matter, she asked instead, “How are your classes so far? Anything exciting happen yet?”

Kurt’s eyes once more found the stain on his bag. He asked bluntly, “Have you ever messed something up so completely that you think there’s no coming back from it?”

She blinked rapidly. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“What if,” he tried instead, “you saw something, and you thought it was something you wanted, but you also knew you couldn’t have it, mostly because it would upset other people and the way things worked. The status quo. But you let yourself get lost in a fantasy that maybe, just maybe, you could, even if it was only for that moment. And … and …”

“Kurt,” Pillsbury eased out slowly.

“I liked him,” Kurt blurted out.

“Him?”

He blew out a puff of breath. “This stays in here, no matter what, right?” When she nodded, he dared to say, “I met this guy, today. His name is Sam. He’s new. And I like him. He’s easy to talk to. He’s funny. He’s … he’s really nice. I like him. But I knew he was flirting. I knew he liked me, Quinn told me he was asking about me. I knew better, but I think I led him on, and then I got his feelings hurt because I didn’t speak up.”

She looked utterly flushed and Kurt wondered maybe if he shouldn’t have spoken. After all, his sexuality was no secret, but it was gossip. Some people liked to talk about his preference for boys frequently, and other people felt nervous under the ease in which Kurt was open about his sexuality.

“What …” she cleared her throat again. “If you like this boy, Kurt, what’s holding you back?”

Gruffly, Kurt said., “I have a boyfriend.”

Her hands folded on her desk and she watched him for a minute.

Feeling the sudden pressure, Kurt added, “And Dave isn’t exactly Brad Pitt, but there are a lot of good things about him. He keeps my head above the water, even if he’s got unconventional methods. Last year when I was … when I got … while I was sick, he was there. He was there every day he could be, and he talked me through it and that’s not just something anyone would do.”

“It sounds like the two of you are pretty serious.”

Kurt shrugged. “We’ve known each other since we were kids. We’ve dated for years. Dave is safe. He’s reliable. He’s everything I should want. I should just be happy. We’re not going to be together forever, but right now he’s what I need. Between him and Finn, I can be safe here. I can be who I want to be, and like who I want to like, and say whatever I want, and I’m safe.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Pillsbury asked. Her eyes were wide but unsure. “If Dave is all of these things to you, then why do you seem so unsure? Where does Sam come into play?”

“It’s not that I don’t care about Dave anymore,” Kurt rushed to say. “It’s just … things used to be different. When I knew him in middle school he was quieter. He was … it’s just that high school changed him. He’s rougher now, and sometimes I see this anger that I didn’t know was there. He … it isn’t that he scares me! He would never hurt me. I just think if I had ever been in love with him at one point, I’d have fallen out of it by now.”

She pushed, “But what about Sam?”

Airily, Kurt defended, “It’s not like I know Sam at all. He’s new. I’ve spent an hour in his company. But I look at him and it’s like I feel--”

“How?”

Kurt’s hands wrung tightly together in his lap. “Have you ever been in love?”

Shaken, she said, “Kurt, I don’t think that’s--”

“Humor me.”

“No,” she answered honestly, a blush on her face. “I’ve never been in love. Have you?”

The corners of Kurt’s mouth tipped upward. “I haven’t either. I think I’m too young to be in love. My dad always says that you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself, and you can’t love yourself until you know who you are. I’m sixteen. I won’t know who I am for a while. So I don’t think it’s possible to fall in love with anyone right now. But, Miss Pillsbury, what do you think it feels like?”

Her lips pursed together. “I imagine it feels good. It would have to. And maybe a little scary, and it would probably make you nervous, but in a good way.”

“Would there be butterflies?”

“In your stomach?” she asked. Kurt nodded. “Likely. Being in love is a fairly biological response. Your body reacts in specific ways. When you fall in love, butterflies in your stomach would be expected. Kurt, what’s this got to do with anything?”

He confessed, “When I was eleven Dave kissed me. He wasn’t out yet, didn’t even know if he was gay or bisexual or just experimenting. But he kissed me one day after my brother’s football game, and then did it again the following football game. We kissed a lot that summer, and every summer after that. I’ve only ever kissed Dave, no one else. And when we were old enough to know what kissing meant, we started dating. It was always so nice, the kissing, I mean.”

She looked terribly uncomfortable but Kurt couldn’t help himself.

“Dave has big hands. They’re rough from him playing football, but they’re nice. He holds me with them and I feel safe. His kisses are warm and he never takes more than I want to give. I’ve loved kissing him from the beginning. It’s probably what I love most. But …”

“But?”

In a defeated tone, Kurt told her, “When Sam looks at me and when he smiles at me, and when he touched me … I got butterflies. I’ve never gotten butterflies from Dave. Not once, not even when we kissed, and Sam gave them to me within minutes of talking with him. What does something like that mean?”

There was a sort of sadness that settled onto her face as she suggested, “It could mean a number of things, Kurt, and maybe it means you’re not being true to yourself.” He looked sharply to her. “If you’re reacting this way to Sam, there is a good reason. Maybe you should take some time and figure out what you really want from both young men. It really would be in your best interest. I’m not saying you should decide on anything right now, but think about it. You sound like you’re content with Dave, but not that it’s what you really want. And you sound equally as confused about Sam and unsure.”

They’d only been in the office for fifteen minutes, but to Kurt it was an insufferable amount of time. He felt like he couldn’t breathe and he got to his feet suddenly. “It doesn’t matter anyway, Miss Pillsbury. Sam hates me now. I led him on, even if I didn’t mean to, or to hurt his feelings. It happened and he hates me and that means whatever I could have had with him, is gone. I’m with Dave, Dave is who I belong with for the time being, and nothing is going to change that. I have to go.”

She shot to her feet, calling out after him, “Wait, Kurt!”

“I’ll be back tomorrow!”

He blew out of the office as fast as he could and found himself nearly sprinting down the empty hallway to the nearest bathroom. He threw himself into the furthest stall and pressed his hand against his mouth, stifling any sounds that might have come from it.

Eventually he pulled himself together enough to leave the bathroom. And after that there was still French class to endure, most of which he spent with his head down and a feeling of nausea welling up inside of him.

But by the time Cheerio practice came around after school, Kurt felt better. He’d had a few hours to internalize everything he’d said to the guidance councilor, and he was actually looking forward to how distracting practice could be.

Finn was already in the locker room, along with the whole of the football team, and Kurt waved awkwardly to him as he popped open his locker, reaching in for his practice shoes.

“What’s wrong?”

Kurt looked to Finn who’d appeared so suddenly at his side. His much taller brother was already dressed in his heavy pads, cleats hanging from the tips of his fingers. “Hmm?”

“Who do you think you’re kidding, Kurt?” Finn pushed a bit at his shoulder. He sobered a bit and noted, “You look upset. What’s wrong?”

Covering quickly, Kurt gestured to his bag. “Dave hit my bag earlier when he was welcoming the new guy. It’s Gucci. It’s vintage. He can’t just buy me a new one.”

Finn cracked a smile. “What were you doing so close to a slushie?”

Kurt huffed. “It wasn’t intentional. I assure you that.”

“Who got it in front of you?” Finn asked, leaning into the locker next to Kurt’s.

Kurt’s eyes narrowed. “Did I or did I not say it was the new guy?”

Finn looked disinterested at the question and for one brief moment Kurt was wounded by the idea that his brother could be so indifferent over the whole matter.

“Sam Evans,” Kurt answered him. “He was going to be my lab partner in Biology, but I doubt he’ll want to be now. He basically told me to start looking for a replacement.”

“But you’re like the smartest kid in the school.”

“Hardly,” Kurt breezed out, his eyes catching Dave’s further down the row of lockers, the male heading his way in an instance. “And it had nothing to do with my intelligence.”

“Hey,” Dave offered. He slid an arm around Kurt’s waist easily and said to Finn, “I’m totally going to mack on your brother now.” Finn was gone less than a half second later and Kurt groaned happily as he was kissed.

“I’m still mad at you,” Kurt chastised.

“I told you,” Dave swore, his fingers curling under the uniform Kurt wore, “I will get you a new bag.”

Kurt pushed at him instantly, dislodging his boyfriend’s fingers. “It’s not about the bag.”

“Then what is it?” The locker room had all but emptied by that point, but Kurt could see Finn lingering. Finn always lingered. Once, back when Kurt had only began dating Dave, Finn had admitted that there was a lack of trust on his part. Finn hardly trusted anyone with him. Kurt called it big brother syndrome, likely perpetuated by their father’s paranoia. So Finn lurked, and Kurt let it slide, because Finn was his brother and some things needed to just be the way they were.

“It’s nothing,” Kurt denied, bending to fit his shoes on. “I’m just … it’s not your fault. Not really. I’m sorry. Can we just let this go?”

Dave shrugged. “Sure. Listen, my dad is going up to Seattle this weekend. I think his mistress is getting bitchy again about the time they spend together. And my mom’s extended her stay down in Jamaica with that pool by she met down there. No one is going to be home this weekend and I’m having a party. Can you find a cover that’ll be convincing enough to your dad?”

At that, Kurt was actually unsure. His dad had a fantastic sense of when people were lying to him. It was almost a sixth sense, as far as Kurt was concerned. But there was a chance, if Kurt could get Finn to back him up, that it was doable.

“What kind of party?” Kurt asked. Dave’s parties could range from mild to out of control, Kurt had seen both from him in the past. They were nothing like the parties that Puck threw, those always ended up with the police banging on the front door and Kurt trying to slip out the back window before he was caught or his curfew was violated. Or Santana’s, which had a record number of three cases of alcohol poisoning.

Dave took him by the elbow and began to lead him out of the locker room, Finn trailing behind them. “The usual. Jocks and cheerleaders are in automatically, and then probably just a couple other kids. Swear to me you’ll be there. Saturday night.”

Kurt looked back for Finn and asked, “What’re we doing Saturday night?”

“Going to a party.” He smiled in a toothy way. “If Quinn’s gonna be there, so am I. We can tell dad we’re going to a double feature downtown. Those show on Saturday, right? That’ll buy us until midnight easily.”

“See?” A kiss pressed to Kurt’s bangs. Dave promised, “It’s going to be great.”

Cheerio practice was long. It was probably too long, especially with the lack of wind, the high sun and the ridiculous August temperatures. But Kurt kept his complaints to a minimum and tried not to show much emotion as Jason Kenmore, a senior and Kurt’s old base, told him genuinely, “I miss you being my flier.” It could have had more to do with the fact that Kendal Jacobson was now flying for him, and she stunk horribly of gasoline, the same way that Dave did after he came home from a shift at her parent’s gas station. But it also probably had something to do with the fact that Kurt and Jason had trained together for two years, and had become as comfortable with each other as Kurt was with Finn.

During a break from routine, as Sylvester berated a girl into tears and Kurt drank down his entire water bottle, Quinn plastered herself to his side and said daringly, “Our boys look incredibly sexy right now, don’t they?”

Far across the field, away from the baseball diamond that the Cheerios were practicing on, and on the football field that varsity line occupied, Kurt could see Finn and Dave clearly. They each stood out easily enough, each tall and strong and noteworthy.

“If you enjoy the sweaty look,” Kurt told her.

She kissed his cheek and said, “I happen to enjoy my boyfriend looking like a man. It’s a personal preference. In fact I like it when Finn doesn’t shave for a day. During the summer I have to beg him to do it every other day. I like the way his stubble scratches. I like his big hands and his broad shoulders and how much bigger he is than me. Don’t you like any of that about Dave?”

In all honesty, Kurt had to nod. He and Dave were intimate often enough, though the entire notion of sex still made Kurt uncomfortable. But when they were, Kurt liked to pull Dave down on top of him, and feel such a solid form pressing him down. He liked to crowd himself into his boyfriend’s lap and let his weight be taken easily. He liked being enfolded on and the cherished feeling that went along with it. Kurt always wanted to be the little spoon.

“And did anyone tell you that the football team is also hosting tryouts today?”

Kurt looked to her suddenly. “For incoming freshmen?” He wasn’t completely sure how that system worked. He’d gotten on the Cheerios because Finn was a grade ahead of him and a football player. And Quinn was already a freshman and on the team. She’d vouched for him. He’d shown Coach Sylvester how flexible he was, certainly not cried when she’d tried to make him, and then signed an inch of paperwork promising his firstborn to her if he didn’t get her another trophy at Nationals.

Quinn shook her head. “For anyone, really, it’s just usually freshmen who try out for the team. Beiste makes them go up against the varsity line, and when they get completely trashed, she tries to figure out which ones can be salvaged for next year. Finn tells me it’s this big production that they look forward to every year.”

“Why don’t they just pull the tape measure out and be done with it ahead of time?”

Quinn ignored the statement. “And look who’s trying out.” She pointed and Kurt followed her finger to a familiar blond head.

“No way,” Kurt breathed out. “He’s going out for football this year?”

“He’s pretty ballsy.” Quinn knocked back a long drink from her water. “Considering Karofsky and the other defensive men are going to give him one hell of a time. Think we should call ahead to the school nurse?”

The question hung between them, and then Kurt asked, “Do you think he’s any good?”

Quinn’s fingers pinched his cheek and she nearly shrieked, “Do you have a crush on him?”

He was certain he was never going to speak to her ever again.

Kurt could feel her watching him as he bent forward to grab his ankles, taking his time stretching out, preparing for the second half of the practice. He answered, “I don’t have a crush on him. I’m curious. One might even say I’m interested, but I don’t have a crush. School girls have crushes.”

She gave something that sounded suspiciously like a snort. “So I’ll take that as a yes.”

He looked up at her, bangs falling into his line of sight. “It’s not a crush,” he protested. “I messed up with him, Quinn. I hurt his feelings, and I feel horrible about it.”

Quinn was the kind of girl who always read easily into what Kurt was thinking, and worked out his problems long before he did. So when she said he had a crush on Sam, he was inclined to believe maybe he did, and he just wasn’t ready to recognize that. Or maybe it wasn’t a crush just yet, but he couldn’t deny, Dave fell away from his mind so quickly when Sam came into the picture.

“He’s good.”

Kurt straightened up when she spoke and looked across the field to Sam. The blond had thrown a football up into what looked like a perfect arch, and Puckerman was flying down the field, in line to accept it.

“Really good,” Kurt whistled. “I’ve only ever see Finn throw like that.”

Quinn finished off her water. “Do you think he’s trying to claw his way up McKinley’s social ladder?”

“What, exactly, does that mean?”

Kurt knew the jocks and the cheerleaders were at the top, and everyone else fell into varying subcategories, their division tedious to Kurt on a good day. He’d never really taken the time to work it out, mostly because his place at McKinley had been decided by Finn, who was both older and about as popular as one got. Kurt didn’t need to worry about the social ladder, not with Finn and Dave around, and the Cheerio logo on the front of his uniform. It was never a big deal to him, figuring out the details. The only thing that mattered as his place at the top, and keeping it.

“Well,” Quinn drawled out, “he had his welcome slushie today at lunch, right?”

Kurt nodded. “I was there.”

She continued, “I imagine it was unpleasant at best. You and I have never experienced one, but it looks horrible.”

Kurt swallowed hard at her words. It was true, he’d never had a slushie before, but he’d come close. There had been one day, his freshman year, when a cocky, moronic soccer player had failed to make the connection between Kurt and Finn. Dave had been there, and he’d pulled Kurt aside just in time, and wrapped him up in such a fiercely protective hold that Kurt couldn’t breathe, and never wanted to move. And then Finn had been there, coming out of nowhere, reeling into the kid so hard that Kurt was proud. Scathing retorts were Kurt’s specialty, but when necessary, Finn could manage.

“If I had one,” Quinn pointed out, “I’d do everything in my power to avoid it happening again. And what’s the fastest way to not need to bring a change of clothes to school?”

“Climb the social ladder?” Kurt guessed. “Knee pads optional?”

She gave him a dirty look that told him she was not pleased with his answer. “And how do we climb social ladders?” She didn’t wait for a response. “You get popular, and you do that by joining a team. I don’t know much about Sam, but he seems like a pretty smart guy. It wouldn’t have taken him long at the pep rally to realize that football dominates the McKinley mindset. If I were him, aside from completely dying from the size of my lips, I’d try out for the football team.”

“That or the Cheerios,” Kurt said.

Quinn’s head tilted towards Sam. “And he might make it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beists gave him a real shot at the team.”

Sylvester’s bullhorn sounded and Kurt groaned. “Break over?”

Quinn slung a thin arm around his neck for a half second. “She let us rest for at least three or four minutes. That’s got to be a record. We should be thankful.”

“My thighs will be thankful when they stop burning,” Kurt quipped. He gave one last look to Sam, who was now looking his direction, and then hurried off after Quinn.

Like always, Kurt waited for Finn after their respective practices ended. For once, Cheerios practice had ended before Beiste had let the football players go, and Kurt was able to shower and change before making it to the parking lot to meet Finn. Finn was sweaty and dirty when he came into Kurt’s line of sight, and Kurt made an appropriate face.

“Dude,” Finn said, tossing his football gear into the backseat, “don’t even say it.”

Kurt slid into the driver’s seat and settled his sunglasses over his eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it. But call me dude again and mom might just find out about the stash of porn Noah gave you over the summer.”

“You don’t know anything about that.” Finn jabbed a finger at him accusingly. “It’s straight porn. You wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.”

“I know the title is Banging Bitches part four. Such an eloquent title, by the way. And knowing Noah, there’s bound to be a MILF in there somewhere.”

Finn snickered, “You said MILF.”

“What are you, twelve? Yes, Finnegan, I said MILF. I even know what it means. But the bigger question is if our mother knows what that means, and if she doesn’t, how completely freaked out she’s going to be when she finds out exactly what it does.”

Finn held his eyes for a moment before Kurt turned back to the road and Finn stretched out in the comfortable seat.

They were about halfway home when Kurt, loathed as he was to bring it up, mentioned to Finn, “I saw Sam out there on the field with you guys. He was trying out?”

Finn perked up immediately, and said right away, “Sam? Yeah. He’s cool. He’s pretty funny and has a wicked throw. I told Dave we should lay off him.”

“Really?” Kurt asked skeptically, because he’d seen the gleam in Dave’s eye earlier that day. He knew his boyfriend well enough to know when he had a new favorite punching bag. “And why is that?”

With a shrug, Finn answered, “Coach had him running some of our old plays. And he was doing pretty good. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started him some time this season. And since we guys gotta have some team unity, that means laying off. I want us to win this season, we all want to win, and that means no more slushies.”

Carefully, Kurt asked, “What position does he play?”

It was a mistake, Kurt knew it the moment Finn asked him suspiciously, “Why do you want to know? You don’t like football. Me and dad and Dave have tried a million times to explain it to you. Kurt, you’re a Cheerio, you go to all the games and you still don’t know how the game is played.”

Kurt sputtered. “I know very well, thank you. You throw the ball, and then if it’s a good throw, most of the team ends up in one giant, homoerotic boy pile. Or, someone kicks the ball and you make a goal.”

“Touchdown,” Finn corrected, “and football isn’t gay. How many times do I have to say that?”

“Please. I’ve yet to see a boy on your team wear those spandex pants who doesn’t look like he could pass for a party boy at a rave. And need I remind you how many times in an hour you swat at each other? And I’m talking at your rear end. Football players may not be gay in the least bit, but they play a very gay sport.”

Finn’s eyes narrowed. “You’re trying to distract me.”

“Shinny objects distract you.”

Kurt knew in that moment the conversation was bound to go one of only two ways. Either he and Finn were about to launch into an incredibly juvenile and brainless wave of insults, or they were going to go full circle back to the question at hand. Kurt hoped for the second of the two, and held his breath until Finn said, “Beiste had Sam playing a whole bunch of positions. He’s not built to play some of them, but I don’t know where he’s going to exactly. Maybe running back. Maybe he’ll give Puck some competition. Now tell me why you want to know.”

Keeping his voice as even and controlled as he could, Kurt told his brother, “I wrecked a potential friendship with him earlier. I’m hoping to make up for that tomorrow, but I’d have more of a chance if I knew anything about him. He likes football, obviously, so maybe if I start there, he’ll actually hear me out before completely blowing me and my apology off.”

Finn’s expression darkened. “If he gives you trouble, you just let me know.”

“Finn.” Kurt sighed. “I doubt that’s ever going to be the case. But thank you for your completely unnecessary show of protectiveness. We’ll just redirect that to Quinn, who’s happy to have you grunt and drag her back to the cave. Your chauvinistic wiles are best suited for her. She thinks they’re funny.”

Eyes wide, Finn questioned, “How are we related?”

“We aren’t.”

“You know what I mean.” Finn scowled. “Sometimes I’m not even sure you’re speaking English.”

“Funny,” Kurt returned, “that’s what your English teacher said to dad at the last conference they had.”

 

_________________________

September 1, 2005

What Finn had to show for the first day of school was a split lip and bruised knuckles. Next to him, the chair too high and his legs too short, Kurt did his best not to touch his freshly bandaged palms or forearms. And even further down from them, the third child in the principal’s office, sobbed quietly as he pressed an ice pack to his mouth.

Wordlessly, Kurt leaned into Finn, who put an arm around his shoulders and drew him even further away from the room’s third party.

The door to the office opened quite quickly and Burt strode into the room. He took a moment to take in the appearance of his sons, then demanded of the principal who’d followed him in, “What happened?” Burt was still dressed in his garage coveralls and had clearly come down to the middle school the moment he’d gotten the call.

The principal, a tall distinguished looking man, answered, “There are several accounts from students and teachers that your sons, and Thomas Martin, were involved in a schoolyard altercation. There are, as you might imagine, conflicting reports so we can’t be exactly sure of what happened. And there hasn’t been a word out of any of them since we brought them in.”

Burt disregarded the Martin boy completely, and knelt down in front of Kurt, putting a heavy and comforting hand on Finn’s knee. “You guys okay?”

Finn nodded for the both of them. Kurt’s fingers dug deeper into Finn’s shirt, his eyes refusing to meet his father’s.

“What happened?” Burt asked, looking between the two of them.

“A fight,” Finn said gruffly, and it was clear from his tone he wasn’t going to elaborate.

Slowly and with a groan, Burt stood and told the principal, “I have good boys. They’re a little mischievous, but they’re good. They didn’t start this fight.”

The Martin kid sniffled loudly and when he pulled the ice pace from his mouth, even if only momentarily, Burt could see several teeth missing. He sighed, and wondered if there was an impending lawsuit somewhere.

“I’m inclined to believe this fight was completely mutual,” the principal told him. “But fighting can’t be ignored completely. Today is Monday. They can come back to school on Wednesday and I’ll expect both Kurt and Finn to serve a week’s worth of detention.”

Kurt squeaked indignantly. His perfect attendance record was about to be shattered. Finn’s arm around him only tightened, urging him to remain quiet.

“And the Martin boy, he’ll get the same punishment?” Burt questioned.

The principal nodded and the matter seemed settled.

They went home right away, even though Kurt knew his father had plenty of work at the shop. Carole was still at work and the house was silent as Kurt climbed the stairs to his bedroom, Finn’s feet thudding behind his own.

“I want to know what happened,” Burt said, his hand closing over Kurt’s shoulder and Finn pausing in the doorway to his room. “Maybe you didn’t want to say anything in front of that Martin kid, or the principal, but you tell me. The two of you don’t fight. What brought this on?”

Kurt wanted to tell him so badly he thought he’d burst. Because it was Kurt’s fault, and he was certain if Finn would let him he could get Finn’s role in the whole mess excused. But Finn remained stubbornly quiet and Kurt followed his lead.

“You know what this means, then?” Burt asked.

Finn toed off his shoes and kicked them into his room. “Yeah.”

Burt bent forward to Kurt’s eyelevel and let him know, “This means Columbus is out this weekend. I’ll see if I can get a refund on those play tickets, but if you and your brother won’t talk, and all I have is the principal’s word to go on, then I can’t take you to see something that is a reward.”

Kurt felt tears well up in his eyes. He tore himself way from his father and rushed the distance to his room. He collapsed onto his bed, pillowed his head in his arms and just wanted the world to swallow him up.

Dinner was a strained and quiet affair. Kurt took his usual seat across from Finn at the square dinning table but didn’t dare meet his brother’s eyes. Not yet.

Carole remarked, “I got a call from Patricia today.”

“Yeah?” Burt asked, less than interested.

“Patricia Martin.”

At the name Burt looked up suddenly. Finn hunched down a little and Kurt held his breath.

“You know Patricia, Burt. We shop at the same grocery store. We run into her all the time, she’s always there, buying those special cereals. Her son, Thomas, is allergic to gluten.”

Under the table, Finn’s foot nudged Kurt’s.

“She told me something interesting today,” Carole continued, “about how she had to take her son to the dentist. It was an emergency visit, mind you. He managed to knock four of his adult teeth out today. Apparently she was called down to the principal’s office because Thomas was involved in a fight today. Isn’t that odd, considering you had to go down there and pick Finn and Kurt up for the very same reason?”

Burt winced. “Yeah, honey.”

Carole held up a finger. “The funniest thing, boys, you’re going to love this, is that she absolutely cannot get the story out of her son. He’s not talking at all.”

“Can I be excused?” Finn asked. His dinner was half eaten but he looked pale enough that Burt nodded.

“Kurt,” Carole said gently, “Fighting is a serious matter. Violence is never the answer, but if it does happen, the truth is always the best policy to go with. You father and I would like you to tell us what happened, and then we can talk about it, and resolve the issue completely. That sounds like a good idea, right?”

Finally, and in an excruciatingly soft voice, Kurt admitted, “I got pushed.”

“I figured, sweetheart.” She gestured to his bandages. “Those are defensive wounds. Finn’s indicate he was the aggressor. Patricia says her boy has both. I think that pretty much tells the story, but I’d like to hear it from you.”

Kurt shook his head. “No. If you want to ground me, that’s okay, but no.”

He was excused from dinner shortly after that and fled to his room where he did homework for another hour, read a book and then finally dozed off.

The sun was just beginning to come up when Kurt startled awake. He took a deep breath and then pushed away his blankets, getting out of bed and then opening his door. When he saw the coast was clear he hurried down the hall to Finn’s room and entered without knocking. Finn was awake, lying on his bed, and he waved Kurt over without hesitation.

When Kurt was burrowed beneath Finn’s blankets and tucked close by his arm, he admitted, “I told them someone pushed me.”

“That’s okay. They probably already knew that.” Finn’s breath was warm near Kurt. “But you didn’t tell them anything else?”

“I didn’t.” He didn’t tell Finn how badly he’d wanted to. How he’d wanted to spill his guts about how Thomas Martin had been giving him grief for almost the entire day, and Kurt had been fine with ignoring him up until he’d gotten a hard and unexpected shove. Kurt had tumbled down to the pavement and scratched up the skin on his hands and arms. And then Finn had been there, laying into his bully, rolling around on the ground with Thomas, shouting at him. It reminded Kurt of the one time Puck had said mean things and Finn had hit him, but this time it was worse because there was blood and Finn was absolutely vicious.

“I’m not sorry.” Finn tucked his chin above Kurt’s head. Their feet slid together. “I’m not sorry I hit him at all, and if they try and make me, I won’t tell him I am. I don’t care if I’m grounded forever. I won’t be sorry.”

Kurt thought of Finn’s split lip. “I’m sorry you got hurt.”

“You’re my brother,” Finn said abruptly, the strength of the words overpowering to Kurt. “And it’s my job to drive you crazy and freak you out, and teach you how to be cool. But it’s also my job to take care of you. I’m always going to protect you, Kurt. I won’t let people hurt you. And when I can’t be there to stop it, I won’t let them get away with it.”

Kurt’s toe rubbed against Finn’s calf. “You knocked out four of his teeth.”

“I wanted to kill him. I guess it was a good thing Puck was there. I think he pulled me off, right? Because I was going to try and kill him, Kurt. You were there, and you were bleeding, and I wanted to make him bleed too.”

Kurt shivered. “Don’t let mom and dad hear you say that.”

From downstairs the sound of kitchen cabinets opening and closing drifted up, and Kurt wondered if they’d gone to bed at all that night. Kurt knew it would only be a matter of time before one of their parents came up to check on them. It was a little embarrassing to think they might see Kurt in his big brother’s bed. He hadn’t wanted to climb in bed with Finn for years, not since they’d come down with the chicken pox at the same time and sought comfort any way possible.

“Thomas Martin won’t ever mess with you again,” Finn said confidently. “And when I get through, no one else will either.”

“You can’t beat up the whole school,” Kurt scoffed.

“No,” Finn agreed, “but I can make it really clear what’s gonna happen if anyone messes with you. And Puck’s gonna help me, and you should tell Dave.”

Kurt knew he was blushing at the sound of Dave’s name. They’d shared secret kisses for years and as puberty approached, so were other feelings.

“I don’t want people to be scared of me,” Kurt said honestly. “Or you, for that matter.”

“I want them to be scared of hurting you.” Finn’s words were unabashed. “I want them to be so scared of hurting you they wet their pants. Because I can’t see you hurt again, Kurt. I don’t want to see you bleed anymore.”

Kurt wrapped himself tighter around Finn. “Everyone gets hurt sometimes, Finn.”

Finn seemed grouchy with him the entire day.

___________________

August 29, 2009

On Tuesday, feeling sore from Cheerio practice the day before, and having spent the night restlessly tossing in bed, Kurt set out to McKinley with a purpose. He knew mending the bridge he’d burned with Sam was gong to be difficult, and chances were he wasn’t ever going to get a friendship out of the boy who made butterflies flutter around in his stomach, but he had to try. There were too many feelings whirling around inside of him, too many conflicting emotions, and he was too confused to ignore the situation. Kurt was convinced that Sam was supposed to mean something to him, even if he hadn’t a clue what it was just yet.

Finn have him a customary wave when they separated through McKinley’s gates, and Kurt headed straight towards Sam’s locker. The previous night he’d wrangled the locker number out of Quinn on the phone, and had sat through nearly twenty minutes of her ribbing before he was allowed to hang up. Kurt only hoped she didn’t tell Finn.

Sam wasn’t there when Kurt arrived, and his spirits fell a bit. Still, a glance at his watch told him that there was still close to twenty minutes before the first class of the day. There was plenty of time for Sam to show, and Kurt could be patient. He’d been the one to spend nearly three hours teaching Finn how to tie his shoes, refusing to let him relegate himself to a mindless life of Velcro. Kurt knew well of patience.

And waiting for Sam gave him a chance to think. It gave him a moment to collect his thoughts and decide whole heartedly that for as much as he cared for Dave, he wasn’t in love with him. Kurt had always known even from the beginning, that he didn’t want to grow old with Dave. He didn’t want to go away to college and write him long winded e-mails, or sneak away during holidays. Dave was never going to be the boy who made his knees weak, and for as much as Kurt cared for him, it wasn’t fair to pretend like he was.

Of course breaking up with Dave wasn’t an option either. Kurt needed him, for various reasons, but foremost to keep the bullies of McKinley away. Finn was the first line of defense against Kurt’s very own slushie facial, and he had no doubt that the kind of pull his brother had was gigantic, but it wasn’t fullproof. Dave was the kind of added insurance that had Kurt unafraid to show up that morning in a kilt, black leggings hugging sinfully to his body. Dave helped solidify Kurt’s standing at McKinley as untouchable, and Kurt wasn’t willing to rock that boat, at least just not yet, not without an idea of where Sam was going to end up on the social ladder.

Kurt felt incredibly shallow.

“Kurt Hummel, I need a moment of your time.”

Kurt had been hoping desperately for Sam Evans. Instead, what he had in front of him was a very short, very loud, completely unstable Rachel Berry. Kurt didn’t know her personally, only through word of mouth and second hand association. But what he did know of her was that she was brash and unashamed and determined. They were good qualities, no doubt, but she was also abrasive, and Kurt recoiled from her.

“Yes?” Kurt asked, and he could see her white blouse stained a cheery red, proof that she’d had a run in with someone already. Kurt nearly felt sorry for her, at least until she began shrilly explaining about how important it was he pay attention to her. He wondered if his annoyance had been showing.

“You and your brother are close, right? You and Finn?” There looked to be little hearts in her eyes, and Kurt could only sigh. Most of the girls at McKinley, if not nearly all of them, were at least a little in love with Finn. Kurt couldn’t blame them, but it was a little tedious, considering the amount of times he was approached by one of them and asked about Finn.

“We are brothers,” he told her, uncomfortable with how the conversation had started already. Rachel Berry liked to have her nose in everyone’s business and Kurt wanted her out of his. “But yes, to answer your question, Finn and I are close.”

She spoke quickly after that, telling him of last year and how a teacher at the school, one Kurt had never had a class with, had been caught having inappropriate relations with a male student of his after classes had let out.

Kurt remembered that incident well. There had been no impact to Kurt at school, but the night that the story had broken on the television his father had sat nervously on the edge of his bed, hat wringing between his hands, and asked Kurt if he’d ever been victimized by the accused teacher. Kurt, thankfully, had not, and then both he and his father had agreed never to speak of the subject again.

“I know he was fired,” Kurt mentioned. “What’s the relevance?” Another glance at his watch said time was dwindling.

“Do you know Mr. Schue?” Her hands flapped a little as she spoke. “No, of course you wouldn’t you take French. I remember now, Sylvester had you sing that fourteen minute Celine Dion medley last year and you were all any of the teachers could talk about.” Kurt hated the look of contempt on her face. “Even Mr. Schue, he teaches Spanish, talked about you to the class. He said we should aspire to be as fluent as you.”

“Okay.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m fluent in Spanish.”

“Look.” Kurt hoisted the strap on his bag a little higher onto his shoulder. “It’s been great talking to you, but I need to go. I’m sure someone else will be happy to listen to your rambling.”

Rachel continued on, “Mr. Schue took over Glee Club this year. And much to my incredible thoughtfulness and generosity, he’s decided to institute a fair acceptance policy.”

“Rachel.” Kurt rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “This is why people say you give them headaches.”

She huffed a little indignantly. “Pay attention, Kurt, this is for your benefit.”

“I’m going.”

Her grip on his arm was hard enough to stop him in his tracks, and when she finally let go he didn’t make another attempt to flee her company.

“We need members,” she elaborated. “Twelve, actually. “Myself, Mercedes, Tina and Artie are a nice foundation, but you understand, we’re not exactly going to qualify for any major competitions. Furthermore, Mr. Schue and I are in agreement that what we really need in Glee is a plethora of voices, mainly of the male kind.”

Kurt questioned, “There was a signup sheet for Glee auditions on the bulletin board?”

Rachel nodded emphatically. “That’s when the others signed up.”

“Then,” Kurt drawled, “I’m pretty sure I would have signed up then if I was interested in Glee club.”

She snapped, “But I’m not interested in you at all.”

Kurt rolled his eyes as Rachel took a moment to calm herself.

“Mr. Schue asked me to ask you about Finn. He heard Finn yesterday. He thinks your brother is really talented, and it’s the kind of talent we need. I want you to ask him to join Glee club, as a favor to you, if need be. And in return Mr. Schue and I are willing to let you in as well, no audition required and without any type of stipulation aside from the fact that you bring Finn with you.”

She, Kurt decided, was absolutely, ridiculously, uncomprehendingly, crazy.

“Let me get this right,” he tried. He cleared his throat. “You want me to ask Finn to join Glee club. Not only would he become the laughing stock of this school, but his popularity would drop tenfold, he’d probably end up slushied, and there’s no guarantee he even wants to sing publicly in the first place. I’ve known Finn almost my entire life, and I’ve heard him sing a little, but he’s never expressed a desire to do it in front of people. And he has his reputation to think of before anything else. Finn’s on top of this school Your club would just drag him down, and I’d get dragged down with him.”

“Glee club isn’t just this pathetic waste of time, you know.”

“It’s a popularity deathdrap, that’s what it is.”

“We need Finn!” Her hands were balled into fists and he had no doubt she was close to truly exploding on him.

Cruelly, Kurt said, “The laughable thing here is that you think you’re so clever. You think I want to be included in your club, maybe because you think I want to be friends with you, or maybe because you’re really just that delusional. So you think I’d be willing to talk my brother into social suicide, knowing just that. But I know the truth, Rachel. It’s as clear as day on your face.”

“And what is that, Kurt? That you’re nothing but a stuck up, prissy, arrogant guy who rides his brother’s coattails of popularity?”

Kurt corrected, “We’re talking about Glee club, Rachel, not the contempt we clearly have for each other.”

She sputtered, “It’s a healthy distain we hold for each other.”

He agreed, “Ever since you tried to screw me out of that A in English last year by accusing me of not properly citing the entirety of my sources. Don’t look so surprised, I know it was you, even if Mr. Abbott never told me directly. But I got that A, and you took a nose dive on the grading curve, and while this is only a theory on my part, I firmly believe you’re looking for a little payback.”

“You dragged down my entire GPA.”

“I earned my grade.” Kurt tried to keep his emotions under control, but Rachel was just so good in eliciting unhappy thoughts from him.

“I read your paper,” she seethed. “It wasn’t the best in the class.”

Even more time was gone and Kurt was certain Sam wasn’t going to show, at least not before class. Maybe he had a chance to catch him in between periods. Kurt just wanted to talk to him before their Biology class. He still wanted to be Sam’s partner. He didn’t want to have their problems displayed in front of the class, either.

“The fact is,” Kurt said, bringing them back to the topic of Glee, “you have a crush on my brother. That’s completely understandable and excusable. But you’re trying to use your little club to get closer to him, and completely disregard the fact that he has a girlfriend. Rachel, he’s dating Quinn. He loves Quinn, and he’s probably going to marry her. Whether he does or doesn’t join your club, won’t impact that. So forget about that right here and now, and don’t set yourself up for that kind of heartbreak.”

When she wouldn’t meet his eyes he knew he’d gotten it right.

Kurt let her know, “You also want Finn to join because you’re smart, Rachel, very smart, and more than smart enough to know that what Finn does, Puck tends to do as well. And a lot of the guys on the football team in addition. So there’s a good chance that if Finn joins, Glee club will get a huge boost of testosterone. And what could be better?”

Rachel was silent and she looked crestfallen, but Kurt couldn’t bring himself to sympathize.

“It’s not right to try and coerce or trick people into things, either,” Kurt chided. “Finn should join if he wants to, not because I ask him to or for whatever other reason. Do you get that?”

“I get it,” she mumbled.

The first bell rang and Kurt deflated. He gave in and agreed, “I’ll ask Finn, okay, Rachel? I won’t try and make him join, and I won’t push, but I will let him know that you have asked him to join. But don’t hold your breath. Finn likes where he is right now. He likes the way thing are. I know my brother better than anyone else, and I’m telling you, Rachel Berry, nothing is going to make him join on his own free will.”

Kurt left her in his wake and headed to his first class. He felt tense and worked up and wanted nothing more than to blow off some steam. He had a good idea that Puck was probably behind some of the bleachers on the football field, smoking a cigarette or something a little stronger. It seemed to work for him, but the first and only time Kurt had tried a cigarette he’d ended up doubled over, wheezing desperately for air. And Dave had hit Puck much harder in practice than he usually did, probably under the request of Finn who seemed to have a sixth sense for any time Kurt did something he wasn’t supposed to.

The last thing that Kurt wanted to do was wait until class began to see Sam, but it was the way things ended up several hours later. And not that it surprised Kurt, but it still hurt to see Sam seated at a different table, one that already had a student occupying the second seat.

Swallowing his pride and a great deal of nervousness, Kurt made his way to Sam. He recognized the girl sitting next to him and said, “Hey, Christie, could you let Sam and I talk for a moment?”

She looked reluctant at best, and but eventually slid away, leaving Kurt and a very obviously unhappy Sam.

Kurt asked, “Can I talk to you for a few minutes?”

Sam was still, then said, “I don’t really have anything to say to you. I think everything that needed to be said, came out yesterday, right around the time your boyfriend was throwing a frozen drink on me.”

“About that.” Kurt’s fingers gripped the edge of the lab table.

Sam interrupted, “You know what? You don’t have to say anything. It doesn’t matter.”

Kurt shook his head. “It does, because I hurt your feelings and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. We had … it was a miscommunication.”

“I guess,” Sam agreed. “But I thought I was pretty clear with you yesterday. I mean, I’m no Romeo, but flirting is flirting.”

Very aware of the people already in the room, and all the ears that could be listening, Kurt sat next to Sam and pressed in close. “I thought you were flirting, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, there aren’t exactly a lot of people who flirt with me.”

An eyebrow rose on Sam’s face. “You expect me to believe that? You’re hot.”

Kurt blushed, then reminded, “This is Ohio. Some of the bigger cities are getting pretty close to taking a step into the twenty-first century and realizing that equality should be guaranteed regardless of sexual orientation, but Lima isn’t one of them. Boys don’t flirt with other boys here. To be honest, boys don’t really come out. I never came out. I was always just out because it’s impossible not to be.”

“And your boyfriend didn’t flirt with you at some point?” Sam’s voice tensed clearly over the mention of Dave.

“Dave?” Kurt asked skeptically. “You saw Dave. He doesn’t do flirtatious. He kissed me in a public restroom when we were kids. He told me he liked me and after that we just kind of fell into dating by the time we were old enough to know what that meant. He never flirted, to answer your question. He never had to. I was a gay kid and so was he, and neither of us had a lot of options.”

Sam frowned. “You shouldn’t date someone just because they’re available and you want to be in a relationship.”

“I care for Dave deeply,” Kurt reminded, “and it may be at this point that Dave is really more of a convenience and necessity than anything else, but he does matter to me. The fact is, above all else, there are benefits to dating him that outweigh everything else. When you’ve been here long enough you’ll understand why people who don’t seem to have anything in common, are together.”

“How can you be okay with that?”

Kurt squared his shoulders. “It’s only high school. In a couple of more years no one will even remember half the people they knew. Noah told me that, I believe he’s right.” Tentatively Kurt reached out and covered Sam’s nearby hand with his own. “I’m sorry if I led you on. I never meant to hurt your feelings or let you believe something that isn’t true. I just wanted to be friends. Because you’re interesting, I like interesting people.” And he had to figure out the butterflies.

Sam smiled wide. “You’re adorable.”

Kurt’s face, which had been warm before, was on fire now.

“But you’re not happy.”

Kurt looked to him. “How would you know?”

The class was nearly full by then, and Kurt could feel Sam’s fingers curl around his own, squeezing tight and holding secure. The hold reminded him of Dave, but without the biting edge of desperation. Dave always held him like he was afraid Kurt was going to disappear. Sam held him like he just wanted Kurt to stay.

“Your eyes,” Sam said. “You look sad in your eyes, especially when you talk about your boyfriend.”

Kurt remarked, “My parents say the same thing. But it’s not like I don’t care about Dave.”

“We already established that.”

“He’s just not the one,” Kurt said, refusing to meet Sam’s eyes. “I would know by now. He’s not. And I’m bidding my time until I find the one.”

Sam’s hand lifted off Kurt’s as the teacher entered the room.

“Just so you know,” Sam said jokingly, “I’m available.”

Kurt stood, ready to move back to his table. “I’ll keep that in mind. But for the moment, how about we try friendship? I wasn’t lying when I said I wanted to get to know you. Everyone at McKinley is pretty boring, but you’re not, and it’s exciting.”

“Stay,” Sam urged, gesturing to the seat Kurt had just risen from. “Be my lab partner. And my friend.”

A warm sensation flooded Kurt and the butterflies were back, making his knees threaten to buckle. “Okay.”

“And,” Sam continued, “let me in on how you’re related to Finn Hudson. Because he’s pretty gigantic, and you’re kind of not.”

Kurt laughed, because everyone knew him, and everyone knew Finn, and it wasn’t a secret as to how they’d become brothers. But Sam was new, and he hadn’t grown up with what often felt like public information. It was a nice change, and as Kurt settled into his seat for the last few minutes before the teacher started the lesson, he knew for a fact that he and Sam were going to be great friends.

The lesson went by too quickly for Kurt, who found himself intoxicated by the smell of Sam’s cologne. And in the blink of an eye the bell was sounding for lunch.

“So,” Sam posed, still sitting as Kurt gathered his things up. “How about we get together some time?”

“What?” Kurt’s hands froze halfway in his bag.

“For our upcoming Bio project?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Kurt took a steadying breath. “That sounds like a great idea. My house or yours?” It seemed impossible that Sam had forgiven him so quickly, and so easily, but he wasn’t ungrateful.

“Yours?” Sam proposed. “If you don’t mind? My place is still kind of a mess. My dad is never home and my mom just started full time at her job. Boxes aren’t even unpacked in some of the rooms.”

Kurt nodded. “That’s fine. I have Cheerio practice after school, but anything from then on is good. Or on the weekends. Sylvester has us pulling double practices in the morning, but they’re usually over by one.”

“I can hang around after school,” Sam assured him. “Or maybe I’ll come watch you practice. I saw you during the pep rally, you were great, and then again yesterday during practice.”

“Speaking of,” Kurt said, shouldering his bag. “I saw you with the other Titans. You’re joining?”

Sam explained, “Just looking for a couple of clubs and activities that’ll look good on my college application. Plus, like I said, my folks aren’t really around, and it sucks going home to an empty house.”

Kurt let Sam walk him to the door. “Maybe you’ll get a taste of popularity after all. The football team is pretty much God’s personal gift to Lima, as far as the people of this town are concerned. Everything revolves around the football team. If you make it, and Finn told me you’re good enough that you might, I wouldn’t be surprised if you started eating at the same table at lunch with him.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot high. “Eating at the same table? I can barely contain my excitement.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” Kurt stated. “But this is a good thing, you joining the football team. Your slushies will disappear for that matter, and--”

“Will I be as popular as you?” Sam asked abruptly, stopping Kurt from moving.

“The funny thing about me is that I never set out to be popular,” Kurt said. “It just happened. Quinn and Finn are the ones who pushed for me to be a cheerleader in the first place, and my popularity is pretty much linked to Finn’s. Plus, I think Dave would destroy any kid who did to me, what they did to you yesterday.”

Sam hummed a bit, then said, “But just so we’re clear, you’d only consider dating someone of a specific social standing? And we’re not going to mention how shallow that is.”

Kurt poked at him. “You’re making me like you less. But yes, Sam, I’m only interested in boys who don’t need to change their clothes several times to day, and who don’t run up a dry cleaning bill.”

“In that case,” Sam whistled out, moving ahead of Kurt, “I’ll just have to be quarterback. Then maybe prom king. And by senior year, I’ll run this place.”

“Not likely!” Kurt called after him.

Kurt watched Sam disappear off down the hall for a moment more, and then an arm pulled him close and Kurt was ducking under Finn’s large stature.

“Come on,” Finn said, leading him in the opposite direction of Sam, “it’s lunch time. We’ll swing by my locker and pick up your food.”

Kurt glared at him. “I left it at home for a reason.”

Finn stiffened for a moment, then continued pulling Kurt along. “I’ll tell dad.”

Kurt resigned to his fate and only a few moments later he was holding several Tupperware containers. Then they were on their way to the cafeteria.

“I had a run in with Rachel Berry,” Kurt told Finn when they were settled into their usual table in the cafeteria. It was still a little too hot to eat outside, the residual heat from the summer slowly tapering off, but Kurt couldn’t wait to get away from the cafeteria as soon as possible. It was always a little too cramped for him. Too many people. Too many people watching.

Kurt ended up with Puck pressed in close on one side, and was letting the older boy sneak bites of the brown rice based casserole Carole had made for him. Finn was pretending not to notice. It was a system and usually how lunch unfolded.

“Berry?” Dave asked from Kurt’s other side, a greasy hamburger in his hands. “That little psycho who goes around telling people how much better she is than them?”

Kurt mentioned, “You and your Neanderthal friends do the same thing every time you slushie someone.”

“What did she want?” Finn asked, sneaking a chip from Mike’s bag when the Asian teen was distracted.

Kurt could feel everyone’s eyes on him, from his brother’s to Quinn and Santana and Brittany who were even further down the table, along with a few other Cheerios.

“She wanted me to coerce you, Finn, into joining Glee club.”

A wave of laugher rose up as Finn demanded, “She did not!”

Kurt nodded furiously. “She did. And she graciously let me know that she’d be willing to allow me to participate in the club as well if I talked you into it.”

Puck snorted. “Berry has such a boner for you, Finn.”

Finn puffed out his chest. “Most of the girls do at this school.”

A piece of carrot went flying through the air at a phenomenal speed and it smacked into Finn’s forehead.

“Quinn!”

Her eyes were slits. “You know the rules, Finn Hummel.”

Finn’s hands went up in the air instinctively. “Look, but never touch, and think, but never say.”

She sent another carrot careening his way for good measure. “And don’t forget it.”

“I told her I’d ask you, but that she had a better chance of being well liked, than you joining Glee.” Kurt pushed the rice completely aside and started in on his fruit salad. “I think she’ll let the matter go.”

Dave waved a hand. “We’ll give her a double shot tomorrow, just to make sure the message is clear.”

Finn nodded, but Kurt could easily detect the hesitation in the action. Kurt just wasn’t sure what to think of it all.

______________________

October 12, 2005

Kurt knew he was different by five. But he didn’t have a label for it, or the confidence to admit it, until after he’d had his first kiss with Dave Karofsky, and his thirteenth birthday passed.

His family, for the most part, had always indulged his eccentricities. They overlooked his oddities and accepted him fully for the person he was. They loved him. And Kurt had no doubt that barring some horribly unforgivable action, they’d continue going on that way, regardless of whether or not he told them he was gay.

So he didn’t tell them.

He accepted the fact that it was plainly obvious what his sexual orientation was. He fussed over his hair, hoarded pairs of distinctly feminine shoes in the back of his closet, and had a sinking suspicion that his voice wasn’t going to drop like Finn’s had. And that was okay, because Kurt could tell, his father was going to be a little awkward with the subject if he tried to bring it up, and his mother was probably going to try and take him to a PFLAG meeting. Kurt was really okay with not telling anyone, and instead letting actions speak for themselves.

Kurt’s best friend, after Finn, was a scrawny looking, button nosed girl who spent more time with her nose in a book than Kurt did shifting through his closet. They were mostly friends because she was very good at listening, and Kurt had gotten to the point in his life where all he wanted to do was talk, and he was afraid he’d burst if he didn’t get it all out. Plus, her older brother was the same age as Finn, and they knew each other, which Kurt likened was probably the reason he and Amber were friends in the first place.

She was the one who gave Kurt his first crush. Not directly, of course, but she was responsible for it, and in a way, of Kurt finding a way to come out without actually having to say anything.

She gave him Johnny Weir.

“Dude,” Finn said, strolling past Kurt’s room. It was the first year in the new, bigger house, and they were both still adjusting to the fact that there was an observed personal space between them. Kurt liked having his personal space, something that hadn‘t really existed before, but he disliked how he and Finn could go nearly a whole day without seeing each other. “What’re you doing?”

Kurt’s hands braced the Johnny Weir poster as he fumbled for a thumb tack. “Putting up a poster. Amber gave it to me. She thought I’d like it. She was right.”

Finn moved easily into the room, frowning a bit. “Who’s that?”

Kurt took a step back to admire the poster once he had it in place. “Johnny Weir. He’s the reigning US Champion. I think I’m in love.”

“You put a poster of a guy in a leotard up in your room?”

Angry, Kurt defended, “So you get to have all of those posters with brainless and toothless Neanderthals up in your room, but I don’t get to have one of the only person who fully embodies grace and determination?”

“Hey,” Finn said, hands up. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to piss you off. But for the record, I have posters of hockey players in my room. And some of them still have their teeth.”

Kurt sighed. “Johnny Weir is perfection, Finn. Not only is he a flawless mix of femininity and masculinity, but his fashion sense is impeccable. He’s more physically fit than most of your hockey idols, and I have no doubt that he’ll go to the Olympics next year, looking fabulous while he’s at it. He’s--”

“--really gay.”

Kurt had Finn by the scruff of his shirt a moment later, and all but threw the larger boy out of his room.

Standing at the doorframe, Kurt told him, “I don’t expect a lot out of you, Finn, but I was kind of hoping I could count on you for this. But you let me down, and that hurts worse than anything. You’re a jerk. Leave me alone.” He slammed the door as hard as he could and headed to his bed where he sat on the edge and deflated.

His eyes lifted back to the poster. Johnny Weir was everything Kurt wanted to be. Because Johnny Weir was beautiful and confident and didn’t care about what other people thought of him. When it came down to it, the figure skater wasn’t fooling anyone about his sexuality, Kurt could see it as plain as day, and that meant others could as well, but the more Kurt learned about Johnny, the more he admired him. Johnny thought his sexuality wasn’t anyone’s business, and neither confirmed nor denied what it was. Kurt wanted that to be the case with himself. Because who Kurt ended up loving was between himself and that person, and not anyone else.

At his father’s call for dinner, Kurt ignored it. He’d lost his appetite.

He was laying in bed, a book open on his lap when a gentle knock came at the door. A half second later his mother poked her head in and Kurt waved at her, a smile forced on his face.

“You and Finn fought?” she asked quietly, sitting next to him on the bed.

Kurt nodded slowly.

“He was tight lipped at dinner.” She smoothed out his blankets and took his book carefully, marking the page and setting it on the nearby nightstand. “Your father is worried. You want to talk to me? He’s going to handle Finn, and I was thinking we could talk.”

Kurt pulled the blankets to his chin and waited a moment before mumbling, “I know this is Ohio, and I know people can be horrible here, but I didn’t expect it from Finn. He’s my brother. He’s not supposed to … I just thought ….”

Carole scooted further up the bed so she could put an arm around Kurt’s shoulders. “Did you ever tell him?” The context was heavy in the air.

Defensively, Kurt answered, “I never told you or dad.”

When Carole laughed, in a light and airy way, Kurt relaxed a bit. She said, “But then you never had to, sweetheart. Your dad has known since you were very young, and I’m sure I knew before you even started considering the possibility. Your father and I, we pick up on these things because you’re our child. We know you better than you know yourself. We don’t need to be told these things, especially if you don’t feel comfortable enough yet to say them. Finn is different.”

Kurt’s eyes slid shut and he leaned his head on his mother’s shoulder. “It’s the way he said it, mom. He said gay like it was something bad, something abnormal, something I shouldn’t want to look to or be like.”

The pressure of her fingers on his shoulder tightened. Then she said, “You know how much I love Finn, Kurt. I love both you boys, but I love Finn in the way that your father loves you, with just a little more time together, and a lot more understanding.”

Kurt nodded.

Carole continued, “So believe me when I say that Finn is absolutely clueless when it comes to most things. His heart is always in the right place, and he’s a good boy, becoming better with every day. But he is rough on the edges, he doesn’t think before he speaks, and often he just doesn’t think at all.”

“Will he hate me when he finds out I’m gay?” Kurt assumed that was what their father was talking to Finn about at that very moment.

“Oh, sweetheart.” Carole kissed his fringe of bangs. “Listen very carefully. Finn does not hate gay people and you know, no matter how badly you’re hurting right now, that he could never hate you. I’ve never seen anyone as protective of another as Finn is of you. There is no question or doubt in my mind that Finn will love you as dearly as it’s possible to love someone for as long as you both live, and then after.”

“But he said--”

“Finn repeats a lot of what he hears at school.” Carole’s tone was tryingly terse. “It’s something he’s always done, and as he gets older, it happens more frequently. Finn is like a mirror, I think. He reflects back what he sees and hears and learns. I wish we lived somewhere else, somewhere more accepting, but the fact is, we live in the Midwest, and in an area where homosexuality isn’t accepted. Finn sees and hears that every day when he goes out, and from nearly every person he talks to. He parrots it back because he doesn’t know any better.”

Angrily, Kurt demanded, “Why can’t he tell that it’s wrong to make fun of someone or disrespect someone or treat them different just because of who they love?”

“I don’t know,” Carole said quietly. “But I believe that’s why you’re here.”

“Me?”

The tips of Carole’s fingers moved up along Kurt’s shoulder to the base of his nape. “You are the most honest person I’ve ever met, Kurt. We all have our flaws, but yours are greatly outweighed by the type of person you are. Your father and I worry all the time with Finn, but not with you. Not with most things. Because we know how capable you are, Kurt, and furthermore, we know what a good person you are.”

Kurt thought suddenly of all the times the past few years that he’d stood around and watched all of Finn’s friends--his friends--make fun of others because they were different. He thought about how he never did anything to stop them, and at most told Dave once in a while how it was wrong.

“I still don’t know what you’re saying.”

Patiently, Carole said, “You are Finn’s very best friend. You’re closer to him than anyone else. And that means, despite what he sees from other people and hears at school, he still mimics you more than anyone else. You’re ultimately his role model. Kurt, honey, what I’m trying to say is that you have to teach Finn how meaningless judgment based on sexual orientation is. You need to talk to him, and he will listen. You can go from there.”

Kurt admitted, “I’m not even sure I can be in the same room as him.”

Carole stood and then bent forward to kiss his cheek. “Sleep on it, okay? Your brother is a little ignorant on this issue, and you can fix that, if you want to.”

Kurt slid a bit further down his bed and nodded to his mother. Then her hand passed over the light switch and the room was plunged into darkness. Kurt curled onto his side and brought his knees up. Maybe a full night’s sleep would do some good.

He was startled awake sometime later that night. His room was still pitch dark, and he was a little too hot for comfort. It took him a moment to register that there was an uneven weight against his back, feet tangled in with his, and the unmistakable feeling of an arm resting across his stomach.

“Just me,” Finn murmured sleepily, and Kurt wondered if his jolt had woken Finn as well, or if his brother had only just climbed in bed with him.

Kurt cleared his voice, then in a scratchy tone, asked, “What’re you doing?”

Finn’s arm pressed Kurt closer. “We didn’t talk before bed. No warm milk. I hate it when we fight.”

Kurt gave his brother a slight shove and turned towards him, one arm tucked under him and another clenching at Finn’s shirt. “You’re right.” It was a tradition of their’s, one that Kurt had started with his father after his biological mother had died, and then continued on with Finn once their parents had married. They always had warm milk together, and talked about all kinds of things. And the rule was, without negotiation, that they were not allowed to go to bed without having resolved their problems. But they had the previous night, and clearly it had eaten away at Finn as much as it had with Kurt.

“You hurt my feelings,” Kurt whispered to him.

Finn’s head shifted on Kurt’s pillow. “Why didn’t you tell me you were gay? Dad says you are. Why didn’t you say something?”

Kurt scoffed. “Are you kidding? Listen to my voice, Finn. Look at the way I like to dress, and how picky I am about how I look. I’ve never shown an interest in girls. I don’t like to get dirty, and outside of working at the shop with dad, I wouldn’t be caught dead with grease on my hands. Finn, how did it take me putting a poster of Johnny Weir up in my room, for you to realize that I like boys?”

“I don’t know.” Finn shrugged. “I don’t … I don’t see stuff like that when I look at you, Kurt. You’re just my brother. It’s just the way you are, and I guess I thought you were waiting for a girl like Quinn.”

Kurt bumped his head gently against Finn’s. “A girl like Quinn? Finn, don’t get me wrong, I like Quinn, but even if I were straight, I don’t think I’d be into a girl like Quinn. You know I wouldn’t.”

The only sound in the room after that was the gentle breathing of the two of them. And the silence lingered for so long that Kurt was almost convinced that Finn had fallen back asleep. But then Finn said, “So you’re gay.”

“I didn’t think I had to say it.” Kurt’s fingers clenched around Finn’s shirt. “Gay is just a label. It’s something that people call other people. It’s an excuse to hate someone, or be mean. I just like boys, Finn. I like kissing them. That’s all. I shouldn’t have to label myself or justify myself. Not to anyone, and especially not to you.”

Finn grunted, shifted, and then asked, in a calculating tone, wide away and fussy, “You kiss boys?”

“You kiss girls,” Kurt returned.

“Who?”

Kurt leveled himself up a bit, head resting on his palm, arm out and bent at the elbow. “Are you serious?”

“What?” Finn demanded, sitting up all the way.

“You do not get to do this, Finnegan.”

“Look,” Finn said haughtily, “you’re gay, or you like boys, or whatever. I don’t care, Kurt. I was surprised earlier, and I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings, but I don’t care. You’re still my brother. I still love you. I’m still going to have your back. That’s the end of it. I’ll beat anyone up who tries to give you crap for liking boys, too. But I get to know who you’ve kissed.”

Kurt jabbed a finger into Finn’s chest. “You don’t get to play the overprotective brother card.”

“I think,” Finn responded, “I get to know who my little brother is kissing. Tell me, or I’ll tell dad you’re kissing boys. I know you want me to know more than you want him.”

Kurt paled at the thought. Finn could be overprotective on his best days, and a downright terror on his worst, but their father was a million times worse. “You play so dirty, Finn.”

“I know.” Kurt didn’t need to see Finn’s face to know he was smiling, and in a distinctly victorious way.

Kurt warned, “If you breathe a word of this to anyone, I’ll murder you in your sleep. I mean it. I will smother you with a pillow until I’m sure you’re dead.”

“Cross my heart.”

“Sometimes,” Kurt eased out, “Dave kisses me after you guys play your games. And when he comes over, he holds my hand. He likes me, and he likes kissing me.”

“Dave? Dave Karofsky?”

“What?” Kurt demanded.

Finn laughed once more. “Nothing. I just … it’s not who I thought you’d be kissing. I mean, whatever. He’s never said anything mean about you, and I like him enough. I guess he’s my friend. If you want to kiss him, I’m okay with it.”

Kurt drawled, “Well, who did you think?”

Finn laid back down, hugging Kurt once more and settling the both of them into the heavy comforter. “Dude? Honestly? Maybe Puck?”

“I’m going to smother you with a pillow,” Kurt repeated.

Finn explained, “Hey! It’s not my fault for thinking that! Puck kisses everyone. He has like five girlfriends at once, and he even says he got to put his hand on some girl’s boobs.”

“No. I did not kiss Noah Puckerman. I would be swallowing mouthwash by the gallon if that were the case.” Kurt folded his hands over his stomach and closed his eyes. “I’m glad we talked, Finn.”

Finn’s voice was a whisper when he said, “I really don’t care if you’re gay, Kurt.”

“I’m glad, Finn.”

Kurt was nearly asleep again, Finn’s warmth lulling him back to his dreams, when Finn’s voice rumbled out, “What’s it like to kiss a boy?”

“Finn!”

_________________________

September 5, 2009

“I want you to marry me right now.”

Kurt arched an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure that’s not legal in Ohio.”

Nearly salivating at the mouth, Sam braced himself on the Hummel’s entertainment center. “If you agree to marry me I will go down to the main office of the Ohio State Court, and petition that to change.”

“It’s just a TV.” Kurt crossed his arms. Well, Kurt knew it was more than a TV. He and Finn had been with their father a year previous when he’d bought the system. Kurt knew exactly what the machines entailed, and how much it had all cost. His father had saved for what seemed like forever for the system, and with the shop’s business being better than ever, Burt had indulged himself. Of course Carole seemed to always be at work, the same with Burt, and Finn hadn’t quite managed to turn the thing on without breaking something. Kurt hardly watched TV, outside of a couple of shows that were complete guilty pleasures, so the entertainment system never really saw much use.

“Just a TV?” Sam repeated, fingers brushing over the expansive cabinet of movies next to the system. “This is heaven on Earth, Kurt.”

“I’m glad you like it. I promised you one afternoon free of studying, and free of homework if we got through our science project. So go ahead and pick something. I’ll get our snacks.”

Kurt had been, what he could officially call friends, with Sam for just a bit over a week. And like Kurt had suspected, getting along with Sam came a bit too easily. They weren’t compatible in the slightest bit, but it was oddly enough what drew them close together. Kurt found he could talk to Sam, and the other boy not only listened, but returned an answer relevant to the question. It was something revolutionary to Kurt, who usually received only a look of confusion from Finn, and a smartass joke from Puck. And Dave was a great listener, but rarely had something to say in return.

Getting to know Sam, to know what he liked and didn’t like, was fun. Kurt couldn’t ever remember being so engaged in another person, not like he was with Sam. They could talk about anything, and usually did. Sam made him feel like he could open up with his emotions, and never judged him for things that Kurt often felt stupid saying. Even more, Kurt was learning to trust Sam. Kurt didn’t trust people easily.

If they worked well together as individuals, they worked even better as students. Kurt was relieved to find that Sam was above competent. In fact he was actually very smart, and Kurt, who’d never once had a science partner who could meet him half way, found himself running to catch up at times. It was a nice change.

“What kind of snacks?”

Kurt turned to see that Sam had followed him into the kitchen.

“Your job is to pick out the movie,” Kurt reminded.

Sam held up a blue box. “I have that covered. How do you feel about Avatar? It’s kind of my favorite movie ever.”

Kurt eyed him. “Never heard of it. It must be Finn’s.”

Sam’s hand came down hard on the nearby island and he demanded, “Never heard of it? It’s only the most profitable movie in the history of American cinema. This the culmination of James Cameron’s life, his legacy, Kurt. This movie redefines the Sci-Fi genre, reinvents it, and then makes you think about it afterwards.”

Kurt popped open the refrigerator. “So, how many times have you seen it?”

Sam looked guilty. “Probably dozens. Favorite movie, remember?”

Peering closer at the movie box, he said, “Oh, the movie with the blue people. I remember now. Finn went with Puck to see it. He said it was so long he fell asleep halfway through, then woke up just in time to see Sigourney Weaver die. Noah probably got this for Finn as a joke.”

Sam looked scandalized.

“I’m not a Sci-Fi fan. I tend to become bored easily,” Kurt answered honestly, placing two cans of diet coke on the countertop, followed by veggies and salad dressing. As he made up a quick platter, he said, “My dad is a big fan of westerns, and Finn, whether he’ll admit it or not, most likely the second of the two, had never seen a romantic comedy he hasn’t cried at the end of. He acts like he can’t stand them every time Quinn wants to see one, and then presses his face into her shoulder to hide his tears when the movie is done.”

“Healthy much?” Sam observed, watching Kurt topple fruit onto the platter.

Kurt pursed his lips for a moment, then said, “Healthy eating is a priority in this house. We don’t really go out to eat, and my mom is careful to plan all of our meals. You probably won’t find many things that are high in fat or sodium or things that can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact mom is kind of pushing for us to go down a vegeterian route. My nutritionist says it’s a real option.”

“Nutritionist?” Sam asked with a frown. “Who has their own nutritionist?”

“I do,” Kurt said defensively. “I like being healthy. Sorry to burst your bubble. Though I think there are some chocolate chip cookies in the far, lower cabinet. I did some baking yesterday and they should still be good. Finn ate a whole batch by himself, but I was smart and made two.”

Sam retrieved the sweets and remarked, “Why doesn’t it surprise me that you bake?”

“I stress bake,” Kurt corrected. “It’s a tick. A habit. A way for me to vent stress without blowing up on people. Right before midterms and finals you can expect, as my new friend, for me to show up on your doorstep with cakes and cookies and brownies. Finn showers me with presents during this time. He thinks it’s bribery, and I let him think that, because Finn may play clueless when it comes to fashion, but he knows what I like, and he knows the right stores to go to.”

“I like cookies,” Sam said. “Feel free to bake for me any time.” Sam and Kurt exchanged a long smile, one that had the butterflies in Kurt’s stomach fluttering about. Then Sam mentioned, “You never said what kind of movies you like.”

Teasingly, Kurt said, “Why don’t you take a guess?”

Sam leaned forward onto the top of the counter. “Well, it’s obvious to me that you are a classics fan. You like your movies without special effects, plot driven, and in black and white. Am I right?”

“Carey Grant,” Kurt answered, “he’s my favorite actor. I love all the classics, but anything he’s in, that’s what I like to watch.”

“I thought so,” Sam said, delighted.

Kurt handed the platter over to Sam and followed him back out into the living room. “And musicals.”

Questioningly, Sam repeated, “You like musicals?”

Kurt could only shrug. “I like music. No, I love music. Music is … it’s freeing. It makes me feel free. When I’m listening to music, everything else just kind of fades away. The music is all that matters in that moment, and I let myself get lost in it. I like musicals because they make me feel the same way.”

“I don’t see any musicals in here,” Sam observed when they were back in the living room and in front of the movie rack.

Kurt sat easily on the edge of the long couch. “I don’t keep them in here. Finn has his friends over all the time There are some things I like to keep private.”

Sam only frowned.

“Go ahead an pop the movie in,” Kurt said, fumbling with the remote for a second before hitting the button to open the player.

Sam set the disk in the machine and told Kurt, “I play guitar. My mom taught me when I was little. Her dad taught her. And some day, I’m going to teach my kids. Do you play anything?” Sam joined him on the couch and if he sat next to Kurt, instead of a respectable distance away, Kurt couldn’t bring himself to mention it.

Instead, Kurt thumbed towards a closed door, further down the hall. “We keep the piano in the study. I’ve taken lessons since I was four. I think I’m okay. I did a few recitals when I was younger, and for a while I wanted to be a concert pianist, but eventually I got too busy to keep up with my practicing and I’m sure I sound horrible now.”

Sam watched him carefully for a moment, then asked, “Can you sing at all?”

“Debatable.” Carefully, Kurt set a napkin out in front of him and counted out various pieces of vegetables, ignoring how he could feel Sam watching him. He refused to look at the boy and continued on with his exercise.

The opening credits of the film began to roll as the front door opened and Finn called out loudly, “Kurt? You home?”

“Finn?” Kurt rose met him in the foyer. “What are you doing home so early? I thought Quinn was taking you shopping for her cotillion dress.”

Finn rolled his eyes. “She knew she could take care of that without me.”

Kurt crossed his arms. “She took pity on you, didn’t she?”

With a groan Finn tipped forward and rested his forehead on Kurt’s shoulder. “It was so boring! All the dresses looked exactly alike. I thought I was going to die.” He asked, “What’s a cotillion anyway?”

Kurt’s fingers pushed through his hair. “I know Quinn has explained it to you, Finn, and probably several times. But for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to tell you one more time. It’s akin to a coming out party.”

“Coming out?”

Kurt scoffed, “Don’t look so scandalized. Not that kind of coming out. It’s her introduction to polite society.” Finn’s frown remained.

From behind them, Sam said bluntly, “It’s an excuse for rich people to get dressed up, throw their money and power around, and then parade their daughters like cattle.”

If possible, Finn looked even more annoyed, and he greeted, “Hey, Sam.”

“Finn.” Sam nodded, then said, “Kurt, I paused the movie.”

“You guys are watching a movie?” Finn asked, eyes shifting between the two of them.

Kurt grabbed Finn roughly and excused the both of them, dragging his brother to their father’s home office. Kurt shut the doors completely and then asked, “What’s your problem?”

Finn huffed. “You’re bringing him over now?”

Irritated, Kurt reminded, “He’s my friend, Finn. And you have your friends over all the time. We worked really hard all week to finish our Bio project early enough to submit it for review, and I promised him a movie and snacks. Why do you have a problem with that?”

“You can’t associate with him,” Finn barked out.

The sudden exclamation caused Kurt to laugh. “Did that just come out of your mouth? Why don’t you try and justify it to me.”

“You have a boyfriend!”

Kurt leaned back against the door. “I’m not cheating on Dave. I’m still with him, and Sam is nothing but a friend. Don’t even think about starting some double standard, because you bring girls over several times a week that I know you’re just friends with, and I never say anything to you.”

“Yeah, but Quinn is almost always with them, and they’re Cheerios, so they know if anything ever happened, Quinn wouldn’t just destroy their faces, she’d kill their chances at cheerleading scholarships.”

“That is not the point.”

Finn asked, “What if people from school see him here?”

Incredulously, Kurt said, “Then I guess they see him, right? I just told you, he’s my friend. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

“He’s on his way to a slushie a day,” Finn argued. “You can’t hang around with him, Kurt.”

Kurt shook his head. “You said he’s on the football team.”

“Not officially.” Finn shook his head. “I mean, he probably will be. Beiste is going to be posting the official list on Monday, and she’s had him practicing with us all week. But he’s doing just as much damage as he is good, and right now, the bad is outweighing it all.”

“In what way?” Kurt asked.

Finn took a step closer. “He joined Glee Club.”

Kurt doubled over laughing. “He did not.”

“He did!” Finn’s voice rose. “I saw him yesterday, singing with them in the practice room. He joined, and Azimio is already talking about showing him what that means. And, to make matters worse, he tried to talk Mike and Matt into joining. And some of the other guys, too.”

“I will assume by your tone you mean he also approached you.”

Finn took a long breath. “I’m just saying, you don’t know this guy, Kurt. He seems grabby with you. I’ve watched you guys study, and he’s always closer than he needs to be. So I think he doesn’t really care a lot that you have a boyfriend. And I’m not saying he’s like, gonna try anything, but what if part of the reason he’s friends with you is to get to me?”

Finn’s train of thought, or logic process, wasn’t always clear to Kurt. But in that instance, Kurt could follow along too easily, and he was reminded of how Rachel Berry had tried to get to Finn by going through Kurt.

“That’s sweet, if not patronizing, Finn, that you would think Sam is taking advantage of me, but it’s not true. We really are just friends. We like to hang out, just like you do with your friends. And yes, before you ask, Sam knows about Dave, and he’ll respect that. I don’t know what you think grabby means, but he hasn’t crossed the line, and won’t.” Kurt nudged Finn to the side. “Now, I’m going to go watch a movie with my friend. You’re welcome to join us, because we are just friends. Otherwise, I need you to give me a little breathing room and trust me.”

Like Kurt had suspected, Finn was quick to ask, “What’re we watching?”

“Sam,” Kurt announced, heading back into the living room, “Finn is going to join us. I hope that’s okay.”

Sam said easily enough, “Okay. But we’re watching Avatar. Kurt said you fell asleep the last time you saw it.”

Finn gave Kurt a gentle shove towards the end of the couch and was careful to set himself on the middle seat, closest to Sam. Kurt was not amused.

“I’m not six,” Finn protested. “I won’t fall asleep.”

A little over an hour later Kurt asked hesitantly, “So it’s Dances with Wolves meets The Smurfs?”

Sam leaned around Finn to tell him, “Okay, you can say stuff like that when it’s just us, but don’t ever compare Avatar to things like that within a hundred mile radius of San Diego.”

Next to him Finn gave a small twitch and then snored, and he dropped further onto Kurt.

“Why San Diego?”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Comic Con? It’s held in San Diego? It’s nerd Mecca? Are the words coming out of my mouth the English language?”

“Questionable,” Kurt laughed softly. Then he gestured to Finn and said, “Not even halfway, right?”

Sam’s arm draped across the back of the couch and his fingers could almost touch the collar of Kurt’s shirt, even with Finn between them. “Nope.”

“Well,” Kurt said, offering Finn’s sleeping form a fond look, “this is Finn in a nutshell.”

Sam popped a handful of chocolate chip crumbs into his mouth and then squinted at the tray of fruits and vegetables Kurt had prepared for them. Sam had destroyed most of it, and Finn had done a bit of damage as well, but Sam couldn’t help but notice Kurt still held a napkin in his lap with several pieces of broccoli, mostly untouched.

“Not hungry?” Sam asked, gesturing at the food.

Kurt smiled kindly. “I made it for you. And honestly, dinner in this house is served early. If I fill up now, I won’t have any room for that. I think mom is cooking tonight, and that’s always something to look forward to.”

Sam nodded slowly.

They finished the movie without interruption, and Kurt left Finn still sleeping on the couch when he walked Sam to the door.

“See you at school?” Sam asked, hands deep in his pockets.

Kurt nodded and opened the door for him. “In Bio.”

Sam hesitated, hands itching deeper in his pockets. “I was kind of thinking during lunch.”

Puzzled, Kurt repeated, “Lunch?”

Sam took a careful step over the threshold and out onto the porch. “Yeah. Lunch. We could go somewhere close to campus. Or we could just chill outside. We really only get to see each other during Bio, and maybe passing in the halls. How about we catch lunch?”

Kurt shook his head immediately. “I sit with Finn at lunch.”

“He could come too, if you wanted. You could bring anyone you wanted. I don’t mind.”

“I’m sorry, Sam.” And the truth of the situation was that Kurt understood all too well the type of relationship he needed to maintain with Sam. More importantly, he understood what was expected of him. There was no chance he’d be able to spend a lunch period with Sam, at least not until the boy cemented his place on the football team, and likely only if the Glee club rumors that Finn swore on, disappeared altogether. Lunch time was for socializing. It was the biggest opportunity, and Kurt absolutely knew there was no escaping the fact that he need to sit with Finn, and Dave, and all the other of the most influential people at McKinley. “It’s just that Finn--”

“Don’t make excuses,” Sam said, and he didn’t seem angry to Kurt. Just sad. “And don’t use your brother as that excuse. If you don’t want people to see us hanging out together, whatever, that’s cool. Maybe I should use the backdoor entrance to your house while I’m at it.”

“Sam,” Kurt said desperately.

“I know you think I’m not good enough for you,” Sam said, and it wasn’t at all what Kurt thought, or would have been willing to say. “You think I’m not good enough to be your friend or anything else. But that’s going to change Kurt, and then it’s going to be you who’s questioning himself, and not me.”

“That’s not what I think, Sam.” Kurt reached out for him, but could only grasp at air as Sam moved back. “It’s just the way things are. I keep telling you, the more you’re here, the more you’ll understand. It’s not about not being good enough.”

Sam shook his head. “I’ll see you in Bio, Kurt. I won’t take it personally if you and your Cheerio friends don’t wave to me at school the next time we see each other in the hall.”

Kurt watched Sam set off down the road and ended up slamming the front door so hard it woke Finn.

“Dude,” Finn said, blinking rapidly. “What the hell?”

Now in a terrible mood, Kurt only stormed past Finn, glaring darkly as he charged towards his room. He took the stairs two at a time and refused to acknowledge the burning in his eyes.

The following day, after a tense Biology class, and a lunch spent with Kurt’s stomach churning too badly to even attempt to eat anything, Kurt blew off plans with Dave to head over to his father’s shop.

“Kurt,” his father said cautiously. Kurt knew he hadn’t been expected.

Hands twisted around the strap to his bag Kurt said slowly, “I was hoping for a little private time.” His father was dressed in his usual coveralls, the blue material streaked with oil, and it was a good indication of how long Burt had been at the shop that day. “With Shelby.”

He knew he surprised his father, especially when it took the older man a moment to say, “You haven’t. Not in a while.”

Kurt could only shrug. “I’m all … I feel all knotted up. Tense. Anxious. I need a little car therapy.”

Burt gave a gruff laugh. “Better than retail therapy. That costs me an arm and a leg.” Burt pulled a rag free from his pocket and blotted his forehead. “Fine by me. You know you can, any time you want. I’ll tell the boys to stay out of your way.” Burt frowned. “How’d you get here?”

Kurt crossed the floor of the main area, ducking around a car on a lift and calling back to his father, “Finn can get a ride home with Quinn. It’ll be a great excuse for them to make out.”

His father trailed after him. “I got that car for you and Finn both, Kurt. You can’t just cut out on him, even if you won’t let him drive it.”

“Do I need to remind you the amount of collateral damage he incurred the last time I handed him the keys?”

Kurt reached the far end of the shop moments after that and stood still in front of a covered shape. He let his hand reach out and rest against the brown cloth, wondering how he’d let so many months go by without paying Shelby the kind of attention she deserved.

Quietly, from over Kurt’s shoulder, his father observed, “I wasn’t sure you were going to come back to her.”

Kurt gave a hard tug at the cover and unveiled his current project, taking more than a moment to appreciate the Shelby Cobra. She was in pieces still, in desperate need of a paint job, and with more than a year’s worth of work left on her, but she was still as beautiful to Kurt as the first day his father had shown her to him. He still loved her dearly.

“I got distracted,” Kurt acknowledged, a hand sliding along the frame. “But I’m here now.” He offered a toothy grin to his father.

It was something they’d started half a decade earlier, when Kurt had accompanied Burt to the junk yard for the first time and run across the framework for an Aston Martin. He’d spent the next three years working on the car with his father, learning the more intimate details of car construction, and working towards the mechanic’s license he’d gotten just before his sixteenth birthday. He’d ultimately sold the Aston Martin, despite his father’s urges for him to keep it, and spoiled himself silly with every piece of clothing he possibly could.

The Viper had come next, and then the Charger. But then Kurt had entered high school, and slowly but surely he’d found less and less time to devote to his cars. He hadn’t been to see Shelby since he’d been released from the hospital.

Burt joined Kurt at the car. “We’re pretty full up in the shop today, I’ll probably have to work up until dinner, but how about we work on Shelby this weekend.” Burt leaned against the car a bit. “We hardly work on the cars together anymore.” Mostly it was Kurt who worked on them when he had the free time, and Burt who doubled checked for him, but hardly waited up.

Kurt shook his head. “Sylvester called an all day practice on Saturday to get us ready for our first competition next week. And Sunday I promised I spend some time with Dave. I think I’ve been neglecting him, and he’s just been too nice to say anything.”

“About those Cheerios.”

Kurt reached for his coveralls hanging from a nearby rack and stepped into them. “What about?”

Awkwardly, Burt asked, “How is everything going? You don’t talk about it that much? That because you’re afraid to let me know?”

Kurt gave a puff of breath, loud and exaggerated. “Sylvester fears no one, but if she did, I think you’d be the closest. She’s still hard on me, dad, but she’s fair.”

Burt scoffed. “Fair?”

“It was my fault,” Kurt said darkly. “No one forces a Hummel to do anything they don’t want to. That’s a fact. She may have been the motivator, but I was the perpetrator. We all have to shoulder a little blame, even if it’s easy to just pin it all on her.”

Kurt rolled his sleeves up as his father said, “I still think it was a mistake for you to go back.”

“I’m not a quitter, either. And face it, even with my AP classes this year, and my cumulative GPA, my chances of getting a full academic ride to one of my preferred Universities is still pretty slim. Berkley’s acceptance statistics are low, and NYU’s aren’t much better. Cheerleading is my failsafe. Dad, you know that Sylvester’s squad is the best. She knows it too, and that’s half the problem.”

Slowly, Burt nodded. He’d been to nearly every one of Kurt’s performances, sans the pep rallies and on campus events. “But would you be happy riding a cheerleading scholarship? Really?”

Honestly, Kurt admitted, “No, but I want to get out of this cow town. I want to get out of this cow state. If it means I have to shake pompoms for four years in college to make that happen, I’m willing to sacrifice what little dignity I have left.”

For the next few moments Kurt worked quickly and efficiently, retrieving his tools, inspecting them, and then setting them within easy reach.

“How about that councilor you’re seeing?”

Kurt popped the hood on the Shelby classic. “I think she has more problems than I do. We talk a little about me, but mostly her OCD just runs rampant and she ends up dissolving into a complete mess afterwards.”

“We can find you someone else.” Burt settled a serious hand on Kurt’s shoulder. “If she makes you uncomfortable, or you feel like she isn’t helping, we can get you another person to talk to.”

Kurt leaned into the touch a bit. “She’s not not helping, if that makes any sense. I do honestly think she has more problems than I do, but she’s a good listener. When I do decide to talk, she listens. I think that’s all I really need. Going helps, even if I don’t want to be there.” Kurt finally pulled away from his father’s hand. “High school can be a lot of things, and mostly right now it’s suffocating. I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes, but that feeling isn’t there in the councilor’s office.”

“I told Finn to keep an eye on you,” Burt grumbled.

Eyes narrowing, Kurt protested, “He’s my brother, and I know we’re supposed to look after each other, but I don’t need him trying to coddle me, or you enabling him to do that. Finn thinks he’s helping me, but he’s really just sticking his nose into my business. Sam’s not trying to use me. He’s a good guy, but Finn can’t see past the end of his nose and all he’s doing is helping me destroy a perfectly good friendship.”

“Woah, there.” Burt’s hands came up. “I think we just jumped subjects. Sam who?”

Slowly, and with a bit of reluctance, Kurt told his father about Sam, and about their misunderstanding, but more importantly, about the fight they’d had a day previous. He couldn’t leave out how their friendship was strained again, and how easily it depleted Kurt’s stamina.

“I’m not,” Burt told him, “going to pretend like I know anything about your friends, or Finn’s friends, or the teenager code that you two obviously live by. But I remember McKinley all too well, and I know where Finn is coming from.”

“You’re not supposed to side with him.”

Burt scoffed. “I’m not siding with anyone. But it was exactly the same when I was at McKinley, as you are now. Face it, jocks and cheerleaders are always going to be on the top, and the funny thing about people is that once they make it to the top, they’ll do anything to sink their claws in and hold on for dear life. Those people at the top, they don’t like it when the boat rocks, and it impairs their judgment. Finn probably sees Sam as a threat, not only to him, but to you as well. Teenagers are like Neanderthals, Kurt. They’re all instinct and no brains.”

“He thinks,” Kurt mumbled lowly, “that Sam is interested in me.” He tried not to bring up matters of boys to his father. Kurt had never met anyone as understanding and loving and accepting as his father, but it was exceedingly obvious that the older man shied away from certain topics. In return, Kurt did his best to avoid them completely, never more thankful for how low key Dave was.

“And is he?”

“We’re so hot and cold with our friendship, it’s impossible to say that there would be the possibility of something more in the future.”

Someone from across the garage called Burt’s name. “You didn’t answer my question, kid.”

Kurt nodded. “Sam expressed an interest, but he respectfully backed off when he found out I wasn’t available. He says he’s not giving up, but he doesn’t press the issue, either. I have Dave in my life, dad, and that’s what I need right now.”

“So you’re settling?” Burt asked. At Kurt’s questioning gaze he elaborated, “Well, obviously those feelings Sam has for you mean something. Maybe it’s even a two way street. I know you, Kurt. I know when you’re settling. When you’re not happy. When you’re sacrificing things. Maybe you ought to give this Sam kid a try.”

Kurt shook his head and picked up a wrench, leaning into the car. “No way. I told you, Dave is what I need.”

“There’s a difference between needs and wants.” Burt rubbed the back of his neck. “Geez, your mom is much better at this than I am.”

“I know you don’t like Dave all that much,” Kurt said with a laugh.

Burt interrupted, “I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to.” In fact Kurt had been aware of his father’s feelings for Dave from the beginning. It was no big mystery that his father was wary at best, with the idea of them dating. The only reason he kept quiet was out of respect. “I’m not going to marry him, Dad, but like you said, jocks and cheerleaders are on top. I may be years more mature than Finn, but I’m no less a teenager, and falling down that social ladder is not something I’m willing to risk, not with witnessing first hand what happens to the bottom feeders of McKinley. Dave keeps me right where I want to be. Things will be different in college, but this is how they are now, and that’s okay.”

Burt shook his head as his name was called out once more, this time with a far more tense tone.

“I gotta go,” Burt said, waving a hand at one of the newer mechanics. “But we should talk about this some more.”

“Talking really isn’t our thing,” Kurt pointed out. They were good with a lot of things, and they communicated just fine, but Kurt had most of this heart to hearts with his mother. He was pretty sure it was the way things were supposed to be.

“And some things,” Burt said, “are worth talking about.”

Kurt watched his father jog the distance of the office on the other side of the shop, and then bent further into the engine, assessing the condition of it.

He felt his phone in this pocket vibrate but he ignored it. He turned his concentration fully to the car, preparing to spend the next several hours dedicated to making progress. The phone could wait, everything could wait, and all that mattered was working through his anxiety.

_________________

July 11, 2007

Kurt’s eyes narrowed. His fingers curled tighter and he issued, “You have exactly three seconds to let go of the Gucci or I will launch myself over this display table and rip it out of your cold, dead hands.” The scarf in question was immediately released and Kurt snatched it up victoriously, jostled suddenly as a pair of screeching high school girls plowed past him.

“Sorry,” the boy across from him said, taking a step away from Kurt. “I just saw it and liked it. It’s pretty. I thought my sister might like it, and her birthday is coming up.”

There was genuine honesty on the boy’s face, and when he smiled it was soft and lovely, which had Kurt’s resolve weakening considerably. He steadied himself and said, “Sorry. I was perhaps a little forceful.” He was still careful to keep the scarf pressed squarely to his chest. “I’ve been shopping all day for the perfect ensemble piece to complete my back to school look. This trunk show was my last chance.”

Kurt’s fingers were a little numb from the bag they were curled around at his side. He’d spent nearly the entire day shopping, his father’s credit card tucked securely into his back pocket with his own wallet. He’d lost Finn an hour in, after he’d become distracted by the Swarovski Crystal shop. Kurt had a hunch that Finn would be spending the entirety of the money he’d made that summer working at the garage on a present for Quinn. He found it endearing.

“Sounds important.”

Kurt scoffed. “It’ll be my first day of high school. You only get one chance to make a first impression and mine is going to be fabulous.”

The boy flashed white teeth. “I’m sure all incoming freshman think that. You won’t feel that way by the end of the first day.”

Behind the pair, a small group of women began feuding over a pair of stilettos. Kurt took a step closer to the boy to avoid being dragged into the mess.

“I’m Blaine,” the boy said suddenly. He didn’t hold out his hand, but he still looked as welcoming as he had minutes before.

“Kurt.”

Security began converging on them and Blaine offered, “How about we get out of here before we end up in that dog pile?”

Kurt paused, unsure over the words. They sounded like a proposition, even if it was innocent in nature, and there was something overtly flirtatious about Blaine, something that made Kurt want to blush. He sort of made Kurt forget about Dave. There was, he realized, something incredibly attractive about Blaine. He looked like an addictive personality.

“Let me pay for this first?” There was still a good hour and half before Kurt expected his father to show up, and a good seventy minutes before Kurt needed to go hunt for Finn.

Blaine waited patiently with Kurt while he paid for the scarf, and together they made small talk, words easy and light between them. Kurt grew even more convinced that Blaine was flirting, but was at a loss of how to respond.

They ended up on the food court, Blaine dumping ketchup heavily onto his hamburger and Kurt palming his frozen fruit drink.

“So about earlier,” Kurt said suspiciously, “you sounded pretty jaded. I doubt you’ve even had your first day of high school. Do you have an older brother or sister who’s been telling you horror stories of high school? Because I have an older brother, and he says it’s great. So does my dad.”

Blaine blinked slowly. “I’m going to be a sophomore this year.” When Kurt’s eyes opened wide, Blaine laughed loudly, and in an attractive way. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“What I’m thinking,” Kurt interrupted, “is that I have an excuse for being so small. My growth spurt is coming, my dad says it’ll probably happen sometime in the next year. What’s your excuse?”

Blaine popped a fry into his mouth. “The cruel, cruel fate of genetics, I’m afraid. I’m pretty sure this is about as big as I’m going to get, which hey, it’s not that bad. At least my voice dropped.”

Kurt glared a little, self conscious of his own, airy and pitchy voice.

“Where are you enrolled?” Blaine asked.

“Not here in Columbus,” Kurt answered. “I live in Lima. I’ll be starting at McKinley.”

Blaine shook his head a little. “Nowhere near me. I thought as much. I think I would have remembered seeing you around campus. We probably would have ended up getting swirlied in neighboring stalls.”

Confused, Kurt asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Blaine gave a quick look around, then dared to move his chair closer. He dropped his voice and remarked, “Well, it’s not hard to tell. I mean, it’s pretty obvious what you are.”

There was a pit of anxiety in Kurt growing. “I don’t follow. Could you please be blunt?”

“Anyone with common sense could tell, well, that you’re,” Blaine gestured oddly, “gay.”

Kurt found himself snapping, “I don’t approve of labels, Blaine, or of people who try and put me in categories. I’m my own person, and I’m not defined by who I choose to love, or want to get married to some day. There’s a lot more to me than my sexual orientation.”

“Woah!” Blaine’s fingers caught the sleeve of Kurt’s shirt. “I didn’t mean to offend you. And you’re not alone. I’m … I’m gay too.”

Kurt froze, and he realized that it was the first time he’d ever heard anyone aside from himself admit to being gay. Even Dave, who kissed Kurt frequently, held his hand, and pressed himself up against Kurt in a decidedly sexual manner, didn’t call himself gay.

And Blaine didn’t look it in the least bit.

“You’re gay?” Kurt deadpanned.

Blaine nodded slowly. “I haven’t told my parents yet, they think I just come home with bruises and wet hair because I’m small, and I like theater, and I don’t play sports.”

Kurt’s free hand came up to rest over Blaine’s. “What?”

“You’re excited,” Blaine explained, “but that’s because you don’t know how horrible high school is going to be for you. You said you have an older brother?” Kurt nodded. “And I’m guessing he’s tall, probably athletic, likable, and straight?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“This is Ohio,” Blaine ground out. “The hetero normative is in. Anything that doesn’t fit the status quo is what earns you a one way trip to being stuffed in a locker. I spent my entire freshman year being teased and humiliated and picked on.”

“Your parents,” Kurt stumbled to say.

“Don’t know I’m out,” Blaine reminded. “They’re not exactly free thinking people. My dad, he wouldn’t be okay with it. And my mom would have to pull herself away from the bottle long enough to fully get what me being gay means. So I can’t tell them I’m being bullied at school because the one boy I kissed at the beginning of freshman year told everyone that I forced it on him, and what a giant fag I am.”

Kurt blanched at the word. “It won’t be like that for me.”

“You’re out?”

“I don’t like labels,” Kurt reinforced. “I don’t like people calling me things like gay, or homosexual. I’m just me. But yes, for clarification, my family knows that I’m attracted to the male gender. And they accept me for exactly who I am.”

“And,” Blaine pressed, “do you plan to be out at school?”

Cautiously, Kurt replied, “There’s this boy, I’ve known him for years. We … I think we’re going to be together. We … you know, we do all the things together that people who are together do. Well, most of them, anyway. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be boyfriends, so I think it would be a little hard not to be out at school. Plus, I’m not going to hide who I am. I may not go around shouting my preferences, but if someone asks, I’ll be honest.”

Blaine said sternly, “Kurt, you need to be prepared for the reality of your situation. You’re a fifteen year old gay boy in Ohio. High school is going to be hell on earth for you, just like it is for me. You deserve to know that. You deserve to be prepared, and not to buy into your brother’s bologna about how great it’ll be.”

Kurt tugged himself away from Blaine. “You don’t know my brother. He doesn’t lie to me, and he wouldn’t let me go to a place that wasn’t safe.”

“Your brother isn’t going to be able to control a school.”

“Look, Blaine.” Kurt cleared his throat. “I know you’re just trying to warn me. You’re trying to look after me, probably due to some strange homosexual ethic code you think you’re obligated to fulfill. But I’m telling you, Finn told me to my face, he took care of everything. And that means everything. I’m not going to go to school and be scared. Finn wouldn’t let that happen. And Dave, the boy I’m going to date, he wouldn’t let it happen either. We’re going to be out, and nothing is going to hurt us.”

Blaine sunk a little in his chair. “I’m sorry, Kurt. But one day, and that day is going to be very soon, you’re going to know how right I am. High school is a breeding ground for ignorance and prejudice and discrimination. The next four years for you are going to toughen your skin, and it’s going to make you--”

“Bitter like you?”

Kurt squared his shoulders. “You think I’m naive. You think I’m unprepared to deal with people who are going to hate me for just being me. You’re wrong, because you don’t know anything about me. So I’m going to tell you, and I want you to listen very carefully.”

To his credit, wordlessly Blaine nodded and seemed to relax a bit.

“Finn joined the football team this year. He’s only on the JV team, but he’s their quarterback, and he’s good. He’s so good I’ve heard my dad talking with the team coach. They’re going to scout him out. He’ll scholarship to Ohio State without any trouble, so long as he remains injury free. He’ll be a Buck Eye, and maybe even a professional football player. Furthermore, nearly all of his closest friends, Noah, Mike, and Matt, just to name a few, guys who we’ve known since elementary school, made the team.”

“Football won’t protect you.”

Kurt held up a sharp finger. “Finn’s girlfriend, Quinn, she’s a Cheerio. That’s the school’s cheer squad. Football may be a sport, but the Cheerios are an art form. They’re the real power at the school. Their coach, Sue Sylvester, she’s about the scariest person alive, next to my dad, and the way I hear it, she doesn’t care about much, but she protects her Cheerios like a lioness. Quinn got me a tryout. I’ve been practicing all summer, getting as flexible as I can, and I’m going to make that team.”

Kurt took a long drink from his smoothie.

“Kurt--” Blaine started.

“I’m joining student council,” Kurt continued. “Laugh at that now, but student council controls school events, fundraising, and all of the dances at the school, including prom. I don’t know how student council is ran at your school, but at McKinley, it’s a powerful club to belong to. Noah knows someone who can get me in, and I think a good portion of the student body is going to understand how easily I can fast talk the chair of the student council into slashing funding for the kinds of activities they look forward to all year, including the annual Cheerio wet bikini car wash.”

Blaine gnawed a bit on his bottom lip, then asked, “What about you being gay? Kids won’t overlook that.”

“My boyfriend,” Kurt said, and he felt confident calling him that, “Dave, he’s already hit his growth spurt. He’s pretty big, and he’s going out for football next year, and the hockey team. His friends will back us. Now, I’m not saying everyone is going to be supportive, or even okay with us, but they won’t cross that line, not unless they’re looking to end up on academic probation for the next four yeas of their lives.” Kurt arched an eyebrow. “I take honors classes, and most of my friends, and Dave’s friends are more concerned with the newest video game coming out and less about their homework. I usually hold a weekly cram session for them. They all come over and we study some, and I bake and Finn does his best to be a complete distraction.”

“I want to think you have a chance,” Blaine said quietly. “Someone should.”

Kurt finished, “But you’re forgetting the most important thing, Blaine. It’s the one thing you blew off very early into this conversation. You’re forgetting about Finn.”

Blaine pointed out, “You mentioned him, with the football.”

Shaking his head, Kurt corrected, “The point of that was that Finn is going to rule that football team very shortly, and they have the most sway over popular opinion with the school. I won’t have to worry about them because of that. But Finn is a whole different story. Finn is a point unto himself.”

Blaine revealed, “I have an older sister. She’s almost seven years older.” A bit sourly, Blaine added, “She was planned, I wasn’t. That’s why there’s so much time between us. What I’m trying to say is that she’s much older. We never went to school together. She’s got her own life and I only see her a couple times a year. I love her, but I’m not so sure she’d put her own social life on the line to try and protect mine.”

“Finn is different,” Kurt said fiercely. “When we were kids he used to get into fights a lot, and always because people were picking on me. He always defended me and he never cared about the consequences. Blaine, he broke bones and knocked out teeth for me, and he did it because he loves me. He will always love me. I’m his brother. He’d do anything to protect me, and I’d do anything to protect him. It’s how we are, and I would never doubt him, not even for a second.”

Blaine turned away, his face hidden from Kurt’s sight, and he thought for a moment that the tension between them was about to boil over. But then Blaine sniffled, and Kurt realized he was trying to hold back his tears.

“I just,” Blaine managed, shoulders folding in. “It gets so hard. Every day. They’re so mean. They hate me so much, and no one cares. No one listens when I try and tell. I don’t know what to do.”

Kurt lifted a careful hand to Blaine’s shoulder, then slid it fully around him. “It’s okay. Didn’t you tell me it’s just four years? You’re already done with one. That should count for something.”

“Some days,” Blaine admitted, “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”

Kurt felt a coldness flush over him. “What does that mean, Blaine?”

“Nothing.” Blaine waved a hand at him. “Nothing. I just … Kurt, I’m glad things are going to be different for you.”

Swallowing hard, Kurt said, “Sometimes I think, Blaine. I think that if only a couple things had been different, or maybe even just one, if it was a big one, that I could be in a bad place. Kind of like the place it seems you are.”

“I guess life is funny like that.”

“Maybe,” Kurt mumbled.

There was, unexpectedly, little awkwardness between them for the next half hour. Kurt enjoyed his smoothie, then indulged in a bowl of steaming white rice while Blaine filled up on a second helping of french-fries.

“I have to go soon,” Kurt said, scraping the bottom of his bowl. “My dad will be here soon and I still have to find Finn. If I’m lucky I’ll find him at footlocker, salivating over fifty pairs of sneakers all in different colors.” Kurt made a face at Blaine. “And they say I have a shoe fetish.”

“I should get going too,” Blaine agreed. “You have my phone number?”

Kurt nodded. “How about we try and talk at least once a week. It wouldn’t hurt to have a support system between the two of us.”

“Deal,” Blaine said, and he was smiling as wide as he had been the first time Kurt had laid eyes on him. “Don’t forget about your fortune cookie.”

Kurt reached for the wrapped item. “I didn’t even see it.” He held it out to Blaine. “You want it?”

With a shrug Blaine popped open the wrapper and split the cookie in half, offering a piece of Kurt. He chewed on his half and squinted down at the slip of paper that had been inside it.

“What does it say?” Kurt asked, gathering his shopping bags up.

Eyebrows furrowed, Blaine turned it around so Kurt could see. There was one word, and Blaine read it out loud to him. “Courage.”

_________________________

September 6, 2009

With a sharp gasp Kurt dug his heels into the soft mattress and anchored his hands to Dave’s shoulders, tugging the heavier boy closer as he was pressed further into the bed.

“Dave,” Kurt breathed out, feeling his toes curl and a spark of pleasure shoot through his spine.

“What?” Dave asked, mouth trailing over the smooth column of Kurt’s neck.

It took a great deal of self control for Kurt to push hard at Dave, and manage to find enough leverage to slide his boyfriend to the side. He let his hand rest on Dave’s chest and said, “It’s dark. Dinner will be in less than an hour and my dad will start spamming my phone about half an hour before that.”

Dave sighed, rolled to his back and took a deep breath. “Your dad is amazing.”

“Huh?” Kurt laughed a little, pressing his fingers against Dave’s jaw line. “How do you figure that? You usually alternate between being scared to death of him and sulking because he knows full well how … physical, our relationship is.”

Dave leaned in for a quick kiss, palming at his jeans despairingly. “Because he manages to be a fucking cock block without even being here. That’s amazing.”

“I’m not going to answer that.”

Kurt threw his legs over the side of the bed and smoothed out his clothing, catching sight of his reflection in the nearby mirror. His hair was a mess, and he’d need to fix it before his father saw him.

“Hey.” Arms settled around Kurt’s waist and tugged him back against a solid form. “Breadstixs tomorrow? Beiste is going to post the official roster for the team tomorrow and I want to celebrate being first string again. Two years running.”

Kurt pushed back into the embrace and mentioned, “So very modest.”

“Just confident.” Dave pressed a kiss to Kurt’s neck. “I know what first string feels like. I took everyone down this week. Beiste knows what’s going to get her a few more wins this season.”

“Going for two this season?”

Dave’s arms tightened and Kurt felt a sudden constriction in his airway. Nausea rose up in him and the entire situation, sprawled out on Dave’s bed, disheveled from a make out session that had nearly gone a bit further, it all felt so wrong. He felt horrible, and suffocated, and like he was only perpetuating the hurt Dave was going to feel when the entire relationship came crashing down.

A swipe of tongue pressed over Kurt’s pulse point and he shivered.

Dave reminded, “Every time the Titans win a game you and those other Cheerios shake your pretty little rear ends. So baby, believe me when I say I’m pulling for a sweep this season.”

Kurt pulled away, scrambling to his feet and hunting immediately for his shoes. “I really have to go. You know my dad, Dave. That rifle in the den isn’t just for show.”

Leaning on one elbow, a look of confusion on his face, Dave said, “Yeah, okay. But tomorrow? Breadstixs? I know you like to shower after practice, so how about I pick you up at five? See if you can get your dad to extend your curfew, or at least not rip my balls off if I bring you home after ten. I was kind of thinking we could have some personal time afterward.” His eyebrows rose at that and Kurt knew exactly what he meant.

Kurt bent, sliding a boot over one foot. “I can’t.”

“Can’t?” Dave asked roughly. “What’s more important than us celebrating our rise to the top?”

“What’s this rise to the top?” Kurt asked, looking up through his bangs. His hair had fallen limp half an hour earlier, and he tried to remember if he’d used the last of the emergency hairspray he kept in his car.

Dave stood. “Your brother may run the school now, Kurt, and I’m cool with that. But next year he’ll be gone, and quarterback or not, I’m taking over as top dog. You’ll be head Cheerio and no one will ever say anything bad to us.”

“At least not to our faces,” Kurt mumbled.

“So why can’t you?”

“Go to dinner tomorrow?” Kurt asked. He slid his other shoe on and shrugged into his jacket. “I have plans. A new record store opened up about fifteen miles from here. Sam and I are going to check it out. They might have some decent LPs to add to my collection.”

“Sam?” Dave demanded. “You spend an awful lot of time with him, considering I’m your boyfriend.”

Kurt snapped, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought it was you I just spent half an hour making out with. I thought that was my hand on your dick, and your tongue down my throat. Was I wrong? Because I don’t do that with Sam.”

“So you’re going to be a prissy bitch now?”

With a roll of his eyes Kurt headed to the bedroom door. “You’re a real tool, Dave. Sam is my friend. Our friendship is pretty unstable right now am I’m trying to smooth it out. That’s what friends do Dave, they put in time and attention into their friendships.”

Dave groaned loudly. “I just don’t get why you want to be his friend. You’ve got plenty now.”

Kurt pursed his lips. “I’m entitled to being friends with whoever I want. And for your information, my supposed friends are your friends, and they’re Finn’s friends, and they’re Quinn’s friends. I actually have very few friends of my own. So it may seem selfish, or petty, but I want Sam to be my friend, and just because you’ve decided to regress in an evolutionary way, doesn’t mean I’m going to change my mind. Also, call me a prissy bitch again and the next time I handle your balls, I’ll be digging my nails in.”

“Look,” Dave said, reaching out and catching Kurt’s elbow. “Just blow him off for one day and come out with me. I’m your boyfriend. You’re supposed to do what I want.”

“Unbelievable.” Kurt pulled open the bedroom door. “You don’t own me, Dave.”

Dave lashed out, “I keep you safe, don’t I? I make people leave you alone. I do a lot of shit for you, Kurt, that you don’t know about. I make a lot of sacrifices for you, and take a lot of crap for hanging you off my arm.”

Kurt’s fingers tightened around the door handle. “I’m so sorry that I’m nothing but a dead weight to you. Don’t think for a second that I want to weigh you down like that. Go ahead, cut me loose.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Dave ground out. “But this is all I hear from Finn. That’s all he has to say. You and Sam go out to the movies. You have Sam over for study sessions. Sam’s your partner in Bio. And you’d be interested to hear what people are saying about Sam Evans and just how interested he is in being a lot more than your friend. Why don’t you cut me a break and try and be a little understanding.”

Kurt turned back sharply, demanding, “Is that what Finn is telling you? Because you’re absolutely moronic if you believe my overprotective brother isn’t sprouting off complete bullshit. Finn sees things that aren’t really there. For Christ’s sake, he spent three months last year thinking the crop circles at the McGillion farm were made by mutated cows.”

Dave thrust a finger at Kurt. “Finn says you have Evans in your room!”

“It’s my room!”

“Maybe you should just leave.” Dave scrubbed a hand over his face. “And tomorrow, you send me a text message after practice lets out. Go ahead and let me know if I should pick you up, and let me treat you like my boyfriend, which you are, or if I should just blow off the entire idea and have a beer. You pick, Kurt. But just keep in mind that you’re my boyfriend and I put you first, and you should put me first, too.”

“That sounds like an ultimatum,” Kurt bit out.

Dave settled on the edge of his bed, a bit deflated. “You know it isn’t. You know I love you. I’d never let you go.”

Slowly, Kurt nodded. But he couldn’t say it back, and he couldn’t shake the haunting feeling of the words. “I’m going to go now. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Want me to walk you to your car?”

Subdued, Kurt waved him off. “It’s fine, Dave. I just …” Kurt wasn’t sure how to finish.

He picked at his food that night for dinner, stewing silently as Finn rambled on about his plans for the following day. Truthfully, as Kurt pushed peas around on his plate, he wanted to take his fork and shove it down Finn’s throat for feeding ideas of infidelity and mistrust to Dave about Sam. But he held back, and went to bed angry at Finn who lurked around for only a few minutes, sensing the mood he was in.

The following morning, in the car, as they drove to school, Kurt found himself exploding, “You’re a complete asshole, Finn!”

Finn straightened immediately in his seat. “Woah. Kurt. Is this about me using your shampoo yesterday? I ran out of mine, and I’m totally going to buy you another bottle. Don’t worry. I know how you salivate over that stuff.”

“You told Dave about Sam.”

“Why are you making it sound like he’s your dirty secret? Weren’t you the one who told me you and Sam weren’t anything?”

Kurt’s hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel. “We aren’t, Finnegan.”

“Not cool with the full name.”

Kurt glared at him. “The point is, you know how Dave is with our relationship. Insecure, Finn, he’s insecure. And no matter how many times I tell him Sam and I aren’t anything but friends, the second you mention something fishy to him, he’s going to take it and run. That’s what he did last night. I wouldn’t be surprised if he confronted Sam over this, and if that’s the case, there’s a good chance I’ll destroy both relationships.”

“Sorry.” Finn rubbed his palms on his jeans. “I know. Sorry. But dude, you know this isn’t going to work. Sam, he’s a nice guy and all, but you can tell, Kurt. I know you can tell. He’s not fitting in. He’s not working into McKinley’s system. And he doesn’t want to. He’s messing with everything, and that’s not cool.”

Kurt demanded, “And how is that my fault? Because I want to be his friend?”

“Because you want to be more,” Finn said, sounding the kindest he’d ever. “You know it, even if you won’t admit it, and Sam knows it. Kurt, Dave knows too. Half the fucking school knows it. Quinn’s calling it repressed sexual tension, whatever that means.”

“That’s absolutely ludicrous.”

Finn smiled. “I just want you to know, I’m going to laugh at you.”

“Laugh at me?” Kurt asked, annoyance seeping into his expression. “For what?”

“The moment you realize,” Finn explained, “you know, that you’re falling for the guy. Because dude, if I can see it, and everyone else can, you’ll have to eventually.”

Kurt turned his attention back to the road and tried his best to ignore Finn completely.

Kurt caught up to Sam, later on in the day, in the break between his third period class, and Bio. Sam was rooting around in his locker and Kurt took a moment to admire the curve of his spine in the fitted Tee he wore, and the way his jeans hugged him. He truly was attractive, and even with the horrendously bad dye job, one that Kurt had yet to call him on, wasn’t enough to detract.

“Hi,” Kurt greeted, heading over to Sam with his books pressed firmly to his chest.

Sam’s head popped out of his locker and he gave Kurt a once over, observing, “You look extra nice today.”

“Versace,” Kurt commented, “with a splash of McQueen. He’s my staple. And I’ll have you know I’m dressed like this for a reason.” Kurt rocked back on the heels of his boots. “What’re you doing tomorrow? After school?”

Sam seemed a little startled, then answered, “My parents are trying to guilt trip me into spending some actual time with them. The thought is almost too much to bear. I’d love to have an excuse, so if you’re offering something, I’m already accepting.”

“Then,” Kurt eased out, “I was hoping we could take a rain check today, and let me make it up to you tomorrow.”

“You’re canceling on me,” Sam said flatly.

Kurt hugged his books closer. “To be fair, we’re mutually canceling on each other.”

Sam closed his locker, threw his backpack over his shoulder and gestured for them to start off for their class. “How do you figure that?”

Trying to keep a bounce out of his step, Kurt mentioned, “So Finn told me you’re really good at football, and by the way Puck grumbles about you all the time, I’m confident in thinking that’s the truth, or better. So I have it on good authority from several members of the team that you’ll have a spot for the first game. Beiste is probably going to put you in from the start, which is pretty impressive.”

Sam nodded easily enough. “Coach already told me I’ve got the best potential she’s seen in a while. I think she was trying to tell me I was on the team without actually saying it, at least before she’s supposed to. What’s your point?”

Kurt continued, “It’s tradition here, tonight, that when Beiste officially posts the list, the people who made the team go to Breadstixs and celebrate. It’s basically one giant excuse to order a ridiculous amount of food and be loud and rowdy without getting thrown out. And it’s pretty much required for you to go. Finn calls it a team building exercise. I think he’s just parroting back what Beiste said to him.” In fact Kurt felt a bit dense, thinking back over the conversation he’d had to Dave the night previous. He realized now that Dave was reminding him of the party, even if it had come out sounding like a date. Dave had, in his own careful way, wanted to reaffirm their relationship as publicly as possible, and Kurt hadn’t been able to see it.

Sam gave a small frown, then said, “Oh yeah, I remember Mike telling me about that tonight. I was just going to blow it off.”

Kurt wagged a finger at him. “Not a good idea, Evans. Just go. Spend a couple hours with your new teammates, make yourself endearing and maybe they’ll stop hunting for you in the hallways after Glee practice.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Everyone knows everything at this school. Secrets are unheard of. Get used to that. Plus, everyone knows Mr. Schue’s Glee club is everyone’s favorite punching bag, or slushie target. You’re basically asking for it, joining that group.”

“I like Glee,” Sam said with a shrug. “I like singing, so why shouldn’t I join? I do the things I like, Kurt, and not the things that other people think are cool. You should try that idea on for size.”

Kurt put a little distance between them as he said, “You can like singing perfectly fine. I’m talking about joining a club filled with losers who make a mockery of the very idea of that club.”

“Way harsh.” Sam hooked an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and the shorter teen blushed. “They’re not really losers, Kurt. Despite what your brother and friends might tell you, being different is a good thing, and it doesn’t make you a loser. In fact, they’re all pretty cool.”

“Even Rachel Berry?’ Kurt asked skeptically. He could feel the pressure of Sam’s fingers pressing against his skin.

“Now she’s a crazy chick,” Sam said plainly. “If you have any complaint about that club, she’s probably the reason, but Kurt, we’re all kind of flawed. Everyone is a little messed up. Rachel is just … more messed up than the rest of us.”

“Understatement of the century.”

Sam let go of Kurt and he missed the contact immediately.

They arrived at their Bio classroom and Sam gave Kurt a gentle push, letting him go in first. He told Kurt, “But man, she’s got a set of pipes on her. That girl can sing. I don’t think I’ve heard anything like her voice before. Sure, that’s the problem, she knows exactly how good she is, but that doesn’t take away from it. She’ll learn Kurt. She’ll become a better person. We’re teenagers, okay, and we’re supposed to be selfish, annoying and all around hard to deal with. So she’s a pill. Whatever. I like to think that I make her a little less of a pill, and so does that club. Now, if we got a few more members, we could actually compete. We need twelve. We’ve got five.”

“Five?” Kurt laughed out. “That’s not a club.”

Sam slid into his seat. “Don’t laugh. We’re trying to recruit. But people are hesitant.”

Kurt set his books down on the table and shrugged out of his jacket. “Because that’s a one way ticket to loser status. Are you even listening to me when I talk?”

“Of course.” Sam smiled wide. “You have a nice voice. I like listening to you talk.”

Kurt looked away suddenly, fingers gripping the edge of the table. Sam had such a way, such an easy way of making Kurt feel unbalanced. Sam had Kurt unable to get his feet completely under himself. And it was such a freeing feeling that he didn’t know what to do with himself.

“Everyone says I talk too much.”

“I could listen to you talk all day. You have a soft voice.”

“Don’t be condescending,” Kurt said sharply. “I have a girly voice. It’s high pitched and feminine and if people weren’t so scared of Finn and Dave, they’d tease me for it.”

Definitive, Sam said, “Well, I like it. And I bet you’d have a really pretty singing voice.”

“Oh no,” Kurt said, suddenly realizing. His eyes went wide. “Don’t even think about it.”

Sam didn’t say it, and Kurt appreciated it, but he knew exactly what Sam was thinking.

“You never said why it would be a mutual rain check,” Sam reminded. He dug around in his binder for the homework he’d worked on with Kurt days earlier.

Perking up, Kurt said, “The football players and the Cheerios are pretty much inseparable.”

“I got that.” Sam rested his elbow on the table and leaned his chin into his palm. “I almost thought it was some kind of rule. You know, that Cheerios and football players could only date each other. You seem to all be paired up. Even you.”

“It seems easiest that way,” Kurt said with a shrug. “But I assure you. It’s not a rule. Anyway, the Cheerios always join the football team at Breadstix. Dave asked me to be there with him, and I’m going to go. He’s my boyfriend and I haven’t been treating him very well.”

“So you’ll be there tonight?” The room was filling up as Sam asked, “You’ll be at Breadstix with the rest of the Cheerios?”

Kurt nodded. “I’ll be there.”

“Okay,” Sam said easily. “I’ll be there too, then. And I’ll see you.”

Sam focused back on his homework and Kurt frowned, unsure of what had just happened between the two of them. All he knew was that Sam was going for him, and Kurt was going for Dave. The night clearly promised to be a headache in the making.

By lunch Kurt made his way to the cafeteria to tell Dave his decision in person, but he was filled with tension and anxiousness. He hoped his saving grace would be his brother’s good mood. Finn never ceased to brighten Kurt.

But Finn was subdued as Kurt sat down next to Dave and pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. The boy was picking at his sandwich while the other boys at the table shot each other unsure looks.

“You okay, Finn?” Kurt asked, feeling Dave’s hand slide over his own under the table and squeeze hard. “You look like Quinn just dragged you to another chastity club meeting.”

Finn failed to respond, and instead dug around in his backpack until he produced Kurt’s lunch and slid the container over to him. Kurt accepted it equally as wordlessly, then bit on his lip, worry starting to mount.

Puck spoke up, “Beiste moved the list back until after school.”

Kurt turned to him, then asked for clarification, “The football team list?”

“It’s a total buzzkill,” Puck added.

Dave nodded. “This means something is up.”

Kurt could suddenly appreciate Sylvester a little more. She was always completely up front with them. There was never any waiting around or nail biting.

Quietly, Kurt asked Finn, “Are you nervous?” He popped the lid off his lunch container. “Because I can’t image you’d have anything to worry about. Maybe Puck, but not you.”

“Hey!” Puck leaned over and pinched Kurt. “Watch it.”

“Touch me again, Puckerman,” Kurt said, but his tone was light and playful, “and I’ll make sure you don’t see the underside of Santana’s skirt for a month. Push me some more and I’ll make it longer. I have enough dirt on her to extend your dry spell indefinitely.”

Puck said seriously, “I never, not even once, doubted that you’re McKinley’s HBIC.”

Kurt smiled triumphantly.

Finally, Finn spoke. With a mumble, he said, “I know the coach. She’s changing something. She’s rethinking herself, she’s moving people around, or making extra cuts or something. There is a real reason that list isn’t up by now.”

Down at the end of the table, and with a mouth full of ham sandwich, Mike noted, “It’s probably Sam. You know she’s had him playing three different positions and running on two different lines. She probably can’t make up her mind about him, and maybe some of the other new guys, too.”

Kurt stabbed a fork at the eggplant salad in front of him. He recognized it from a book his parents owned, one filled with high protein meals. With the combination of the way Finn was watching him pick at it, he knew he was in trouble. Kurt let himself fall back wholly against Dave as he skillfully avoided the small, cubed potatoes of the salad.

“Doesn’t matter who she sticks where,” Dave said confidently, his chest rumbling beneath Kurt as he spoke. “We’re in charge here. We’re top dogs. If there’s an uprising, we’ll just have to put it down.”

Next to him, Azimio offered Dave a fist bump.

“You’re not going to war,” Kurt said with a small snort.

“Football is totally war,” Finn protested.

“Well,” Kurt allowed. “Sometimes you do come home bloody.”

“I mean it,” Dave continued, “We’re the football team. No matter what coach does, we’ve been here from the start. If anyone tries to move in on that, we’ll just have give them a little dumpster dive.”

And in that moment Kurt was struck with the shallowness of not only his boyfriend, but his friends who were all nodding in agreement. He couldn’t help remarking, “You’d think you’d be more interested in actually winning more than a couple games this season. Who cares if you have to share your popularity to do that.” Because honestly, Kurt liked his popularity just as much as the rest of them, but he was beginning to think that there were more important things. Popularity, at least to Kurt, was starting to seem more like a burden. He wasn’t sure he wanted to give high school a try without it, but the option was starting to sound a lot less horrific.

Dave’s fingers released Kurt’s hand and he said, “Look, I don’t care who makes the team, not really.”

“That’s only because none of the new guys are bigger than you! Your spot is safe!” Puck called out, giving them a wave as he headed away from the table and towards a group of Cheerios who’d entered the cafeteria.

“I just care,” Dave told Kurt, “if you’re coming to Breadstix with me tonight.”

Kurt’s voice dropped and he said, “I told Sam we’d take a rain check, because I needed to spend some time with my boyfriend. He understood. So yes, I’ll go with you. You can be at my house by five, no later than five-thirty, don’t wear the aftershave I hate and try not to give my father a reason to shoot you when you’re in the same room together for more than thirty seconds, waiting for me to be ready.”

Dave defended, “Your mom totally likes me.”

Kurt got to his feet. “She’s just a better actor than my dad.”

Frowning, Dave watched Kurt gather up his things.

“Where are you going?” Finn asked. “Lunch isn’t even half over.”

“My locker.” Kurt capped his lunch container. “I’ll eat this on the go. Gentlemen. I’ll see you tonight.” He could feel Finn’s disapproval, and Dave’s confusion over his sudden departure, but Kurt continued on, moving quickly to his locker and dumping his lunch out into the nearest trashcan.

He was halfway through exchanging out his morning books for his afternoon ones when a shadow fell over him and Sam said in a forceful voice, “Dump your boyfriend and let me take you to Breadstix instead.”

Kurt glanced at him over his shoulder. “How about you try and be less delusional. I prefer sanity.”

Sam plucked Kurt’s books out of his hands, ignoring the protesting sound he made. Sam asked, “Did you or did you not tell me that at least half the reason you’re with your boyfriend is because he helps keep you popular enough to keep the bullies away.”

“You make me sound like such a callous bitch. I do actually care about him.”

Sam raised an eyebrow.

Slowly, Kurt admitted, “Yes, if we’re being truthful, the main draw to Dave is that he’s got a powerful position in this school. Without him I’d probably just be the faggy kid that dresses like a girl half the time. Finn alone isn’t enough to keep the homophobia at bay.”

Chest puffed out a bit, Sam said, “Well, I can do the same thing.”

Kurt closed his locker and took his books back from Sam. “Joining the football team will get you a lot of things, Sam, including a bunch of girls at this school who’ll open their legs. But it won’t get you respect. And that’s what earns you popularity.” Kurt considered for a moment, then added, “That and fear.”

“And your brother, he has respect?”

Kurt nodded. “He’s the quarterback. He’s also the team captain. He inspires them, supports them, and holds them together. They respect him for that, and so does the rest of the school. The Titans aren’t exactly … they tend to lose more games than they win, and Finn doesn’t let that get them down.”

“So what you’re saying is that being quarterback earns you respect?” Sam crossed his arms, then repeated, “Dump your boyfriend and go out with me.”

“Go to lunch, Sam.” Kurt started for the parking lot and his car. He planned to hide out for the next twenty minutes. He need to be alone. He wanted to be alone. Sam’s sudden change was jarring. Something was different and Kurt wasn’t sure what it was. All he knew was that they’d gone from subtle, only somewhat wanted flirting, to brazen declarations. It made Kurt nervous.

“You’ll change your mind!” Sam called after him. “Give it a couple of hours!”

Several hours later nothing had changed. As the final bell for the day rang, Kurt met Dave by his locker and pressed a kiss to his mouth.

“You’re in a good mood,” Dave said, happily taking Kurt’s bag and throwing an arm over him. “Let me walk you to practice?”

“Don’t you want to go check if you made the team?” Regardless of the question, Kurt looped a finger into the pocket of Dave’s jeans and they started down towards the football field. “Sylvester knows that list is going to be posted today, and she may be a cold, heartless bitch, but she knows tradition when she sees it. She’ll let us go pretty early tonight.”

Dave jerked a thumb down a nearby corridor, “I’ll double back and check it as soon as I drop you off. But I know I’m on it. I’m more interested to see where Evans ended up.”

“I don’t want to talk about Sam, okay? Just us.”

The bottom line was, and of this Kurt was sure, Sam wasn’t a safe bet. He wasn’t anything steady or reliable and he wasn’t worth risking Dave over. Dave wasn’t perfect, but he was everything Kurt needed at the moment. Finn and Puck and the other guys were always talking about not rocking the boat. Kurt supposed it was time that he started listening to them, especially with homecoming around the corner, and prom later on in the year.

They stopped in the middle of the hallway and Dave looked at him for a moment, his expression unreadable and rattling Kurt’s nerves. Then he said, “I love you, Kurt.” There was such ferocity behind the words, such authenticity and passion that Kurt couldn’t move, not even as Dave angled him backwards into a row of lockers, his hand cradling the back of Kurt’s head as it made contact. He tilted back, jaw rising, and then they were kissing, deeper and harder than they’d ever done before, forgetting their setting, and who could be watching. Dave’s fingers fisted Kurt’s shirt and worked his mouth open.

Kurt felt himself tremble, and then Dave pulled back, a frightened look on his face. “Kurt.” His fingers brushed at Kurt’s cheeks, catching tears that had leaked out. “God, did I hurt you?”

Kurt caught his fingers, curled around them and then kissed them softly, shaking his head. “No.”

“Then what?”

Sniffling a bit, Kurt said, “Just walk me to practice, okay? Walk me to practice and then pick me up afterwards, take me to dinner and make me forget.”

Mouth open in frustration, Dave asked, “Forget what?”

That there were not stars, Kurt wanted to tell him. That there were no stars and no butterflies and nothing but a warm pressure and a determined tongue. Dave had kissed him with everything he had, and Kurt had felt nothing.

“What’s with you?” Quinn demanded halfway through Cheerios practice. She dabbed at her forehead with a white towel. “You look like you just ruined your favorite shoes or something.” Her eyebrows rose. “The Chuck Taylor boots.”

Kurt pulled his own towel across the back of his neck. “You love Finn, right?”

Quinn shrugged. “I guess. I’m not really sure what love feels like, but I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I want to have kids with him. I think that’s enough.”

“What if Finn wasn’t popular?”

Quinn seemed confused. “He’s the quarterback. Why wouldn’t he be popular?”

“No,” Kurt sighed. “Say he wasn’t the quarterback. Say he wasn’t even on the football team at all. Or maybe he joined Glee, or wasn’t so good looking. Anything. Just … what if he wasn’t all the things that you like best about him, but when you looked at him, you kind of felt your knees lock up and your stomach jump around.”

Her nose turned up. “I wouldn’t. Kurt, you know as well as I do that status is everything. I wouldn’t fall for a guy who didn’t have it.”

“Quinn,” Kurt snapped a little. “Indulge me. What if?” He ran his fingers through his hair. It was already destroyed from the heat and his sweat. “Or what if another guy, who didn’t have any of what Finn has, made your heart beat a little faster? What if you wanted that, even if it wasn’t what you’d been told to want.”

Quinn made to answer, and then Sylvester was barking at them to get back in formation. Kurt took his position at the front, catching a wink from Jason Kenmore, his old base, before the boy bent forward to told tight to his flier. Never more in that moment did Kurt miss flying.

Being a flier was on his mind, as was Quinn and Sam and Dave, in a wave of anxious thoughts that had come to be routine for him, by the time practice was over.

Quinn gave him a long wave and promised, “I’ll see you tonight at Breadstix!” and then was gone, heading off with Santana and Brittany towards the locker room.

Kurt lingered behind, stretching his tired muscles a little more and enjoying the peace. He had no doubt that he’d go home to his father and brother causing a ruckus over the football roster. And it would continue long into the night with the party, so Kurt let himself go in the quietness of the football field, the sun threatening to drop behind him.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said I missed you being my flier.”

Kurt spun sharply, a hand pressed to his chest. “Jason,“ he breathed out. “You scared me. I thought everyone was leaving.” The tall senior had his bag over one shoulder and his cleats hanging from one hand.

“I’m going,” he said with a laugh, “I just wanted to tell you that I really meant what I said last week when we talked.”

Kurt’s memory raced until he could recall that morning on the first day of school when Jason has smiled kindly at him and said as much.

Kurt knelt to gather up his things. “We both know why things can’t be that way. That’s kind of you to say, but I can’t be your flier anymore.”

“You trust me?” Jason asked, moving up behind Kurt, his hands fitting so casually onto his waist on either side.

“Of course,” Kurt barely managed. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be held by him. It had been almost half a year since the last time. But the fact remained, he did trust Jason. He trusted him with his life. They had years of solid trust built up between them, and a little time apart hadn’t diminished it at all.

“Then,” Jason said, his voice tickling Kurt’s ear, “hold on and keep your balance.”

He went up so fast and so suddenly, with so much power, Kurt wobbled. He remembered when wobbling would have earned him a shout from Jason, a scream from Sylvester and disappointment from himself. Now there was only silence, and concentration, enough for Kurt to straighten out and extend his arms.

“You okay up there?” Jason called out.

Kurt couldn’t help the brilliant smile that refused to be moved from his face. “Fantastic!” He could see out across the whole field, towards the school, and even further back. He was only a mere six feet off the ground, but it felt like a mile. And he was so overcome with happiness that he started to shake once more.

“I’m bringing you down!” Jason warned, and then Kurt was back on the ground, held fast and sure to Jason, the both of them laughing wildly.

“That was so great!” Kurt staggered a bit when Jason let go of him.

“I told you I could do it!”

The laugher falling away, Kurt was struck by the seriousness of his friend. “I realize that now. But it doesn’t make it any less dangerous.”

Jason crossed his arms. “We’re cheerleaders and we tumble. There’s a good chance a lot of us will break at least some bones in a single season, especially with the way Sylvester works us. But me lifting you, with the trust and familiarity we have, that’s not dangerous.”

Kurt shook his head. “A year ago that would’ve been true, but things are a lot different now.”

“I know,” Jason said determinedly. “I’ve been at the gym this summer. I’ve bulked up. I mean look at these guns. I put on at least fifteen pounds of muscle. I’m stronger than ever, and I think I just proved that by how easily I lifted you.”

“I finally hit my growth spurt,” Kurt argued. His voice trembled as he admitted, “And I put on weight.”

“Sylvester is a bitch.”

Kurt’s eyes widened. “That doesn’t mean she’s wrong.”

“You’re my friend and you’re my flier, Kurt Hummel. I should get to decide that, not Sylvester, and I’m gong to go bat for you with her.”

“You just don’t like working with Kendal.” Kurt shook a finger at him. “That’s no reason to stir up trouble.”

Flatly, Jason asked, “You like flying?”

Kurt couldn’t lie, not to one of the few people in his life that had always stood by him. “Of course. You know how much I love it.”

Jason’s head nodded to the side, and Kurt looked to the edge of the field where he saw Sylvester watching.

“When she told me,” the senior told Kurt, “that you weren’t going to fly with me anymore, I may have freaked out on her a little bit. Maybe she was still scared from when your dad came after her, but she told me something Kurt. She told me the real reason why you weren’t flying with me anymore.”

“The real reason?” Kurt could barely tear his eyes from Sylvester, and he knew she’d seen everything, including the illegal lift. He could only be grateful she couldn’t hear the conversation he and Jason were having, or that she wasn’t tearing into them for him going up without more than one person to support him.

“You doctor,” Jason said with a kind smile, “and your father. They agreed. The stress to your body involved with the conditioning you’d have to go through to be ready to fly … they didn’t want to chance it. The didn’t want that pressure on you, so they told Sylvester, and Sylvester told me. Then she made up another reason why, because she doesn’t want people to know that she actually cares about us. I think she sees that as a weakness. She didn’t want you to get hurt anymore, Kurt, but I think this is hurting you just as much.”

Kurt’s hands balled. “I should be furious at the people in my life for going behind my back like that and making these kind of decisions for me.”

“But?”

“But nothing.” Kurt shook his head. “I hate this. You know, I hate this so much.”

“You’re not sick anymore,” Jason said, turning a bit, prepared to leave. “And I’ve been watching you this past week. It wouldn’t be that hard for you to get into shape. I want you to fly with me, Kurt, and I’m challenging you to make it happen. We’re going to train together every day after school when we don’t have practice, and this time next month we’re going to throw Sylvester’s words in her face. Deal?”

Kurt looked back to where Sylvester had been standing, but she was gone. “Sylvester--”

“This isn’t about Sylvester. This is about you and me, that’s it. I want my favorite flier for my senior year.”

“What if I get you hurt? I know you’re going to cheer next year on the collegiate level. I’m not the same I was last year, or the year before that.”

“Take the deal, Kurt. I can see it in you when you’re standing in front, holding up a dinky sign while I throw Kendal in the air. You want this, so just agree already, because my mom is making meatloaf tonight and if I’m not there on time I’ll get stuck washing the dishes. Kurt, there are eight people in my family. That’s a lot of dishes.”

It might have been a moment of weakness, but all Kurt could think of was how badly he wanted to fly again. He wanted things to go back to the way they had been, and he wanted his confidence back. He was tired of faking it. “Okay.”

“Okay what?”

Kurt swatted at him, “Okay, you’re right, I do want to fly again. I miss it, and thank you for forcing me to admit that.”

Jason assured, “I’m being totally selfish here, Kurt.” He started heading off the field. “I like the best, and you’re that. So don’t thank me!”

Kurt was practically buzzing with adrenaline after that, nearly running to his car and climbing in with lightening speed. He took a moment to check his phone, cycling through several text messages to get to the one from Finn, dated nearly an hour ago that informed him he was catching a ride with Puck. There was another message from his father from fifteen minutes earlier, and one from Quinn, but Kurt ignored them both in favor of getting home as quick as he could.

Kurt knew something was wrong the moment he stepped into the house. It was quiet, and in a way that seemed unnatural.

“Hello?” Kurt called out, toeing his shoes off and then bending to pick them up. “Finn? Dad? Mom? Is anyone home?”

He was expecting his brother to greet him, or maybe Puck. Puck seemed to spend more time at their house than his own. But instead it was Quinn who came around the corner to stand in front of Kurt in the foyer. She was still dressed in her Cheerio practice uniform and looked more disheveled than he could ever remember in the past.

Her eyes were glossy.

“Quinn?”

“What you said earlier,” she ground out, voice rough and full of emotion, “about Finn not being popular and not being quarterback and not being all of those things that I say are so important.”

“Huh?” Kurt let his Cheerios bag fall to the floor. “What’re you talking about?”

She jumped forward and startled him, her hands curling around his and tugging hard. She was a delicate girl, soft and feminine and looked fragile, but she had a hard grip and she was pulling hard. “Tell me you didn’t know.”

He shook his head instinctively. “Didn’t know what? Quinn, I don’t know what’s going on.” But it was bad. He could tell that much by the way she folded in on herself. “Quinn?”

She pointed to the stairway and said, “Go see your brother, Kurt. He needs you right now. He … I think he’s …”

Kurt couldn’t wait for her to finish. He rushed past her, taking the stairs two at a time until he burst into Finn’s room and found him hunched over at the foot of his bed.

“Finn?” Kurt settled next to him, tentative at first, and then put a hand on his knee. “What’s wrong?”

Finn turned slowly to him, anguish on his face. “Kurt.”

“Oh, God,” Kurt breathed out. “Is it mom? Is it dad?”

“No.” Finn’s hand captured his and he said firmly, “no, Kurt, it’s not that. They’re fine.”

“Then what!” His nerves were shot, and in the past few hours he’s been through more emotions than he usually let himself feel in a week.

“I …” Finn started to say, and it looked so difficult for him. “Kurt, I lost my spot.”

“Your spot?” Kurt parroted.

“I’m not the quarterback anymore.” Finn made a sound, something that Kurt thought was akin to a muffled sob, and then he had his big brother pressing into his shoulder, face hiding in Kurt’s sweaty, smelly uniform.

Kurt’s hand came up immediately to cradle the back of Finn’s neck and he held his brother close, taking a moment to let the reality of the situation set in. It suddenly made sense why Quinn was so upset, and why Finn, who was probably the strongest person Kurt knew next to their parents, was crying. Because for as long as Kurt had been old enough to recognize what things were important to Finn, he’d always known football to be at the very top of the list, mixed in somewhere with family and Quinn.

And Finn had played football forever. Kurt remembered going to Finn’s games as a child, in the years when he’d just been starting to make the transition from the little guy his father liked to coddle and a preteen who was dead set on middle school in the coming years. Finn had always worn some sort of team jersey, and been out of the house on the weekend, working his body and mind hard to prepare for games. Football was, without a doubt, what had taught Finn confidence and teamwork, and had given him self esteem. It was everything to Finn, and so was the position of quarterback.

“I went to check the list,” Finn explained. “We all did, me and the guys. We were all joking about Puck getting cut from the team. I didn’t think … I never even thought for a second …”

Kurt pulled Finn down a bit so he could press his forehead against the much taller boy’s. “You were cut from the team?” Kurt could barely imagine a Titans team without Finn on it, or what his coach had been thinking. It had to be a mistake. It had to be one cruel joke.

“I wish I had been.” Finn choked out a dry laugh. “I wasn’t cut at all. I’m the alternate. Second string. I play only when needed, which won’t be very often.”

The alternate.

Kurt could barely ask, “Who’s the new quarterback?”

But truthfully, Kurt had already known the answer.

“So you really didn’t know?” Quinn asked Kurt out in the hall. He hadn’t wanted to leave Finn, but the teenager had curled up on his bed shortly after spitting out Sam’s name viciously, and then asked to be alone for a bit. “You didn’t know Sam took Finn’s spot?”

“No.” Though it made sense, considering how he’d delivered to Sam the idea that he wouldn’t be willing to date anyone who couldn’t rise to the top of McKinley’s social ladder, and then all but informed him the quickest way to do that was through the football team. Namely the quarterback position. And then earlier that day Sam had come to him and been evasive, vague, and alluded to something that would make Kurt change his mind. Sam had known, even during the lunch period, that things were about to change.

Quinn leaned back against the wall and Kurt thought she might sink down it at any moment. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, Kurt.”

“What was the coach thinking?”

Quinn bit out, “It’s Sam. He’s the problem.”

Kurt was upset, and he was hurting, and he confessed, “I think it’s all my fault, Quinn.”

There was the edge of a glare on her face, something that implied hellfire if she didn’t like what he said, and Kurt heard the tone in her voice as she asked, “How do you figure that?”

“Sam,” Kurt struggled to say, “he likes me. I think I gave him the idea that if he made the team and was popular enough, that I’d be wiling to date him. I never meant for this to happen, Quinn. I didn’t know he’d go after Finn’s spot.”

Like Kurt had expected, she braced herself as she slid down to the ground. Quinn tucked her knees to her chest and said, “We have to do something, Kurt. I already talked to Puck and Mike and some of the other guys. We have to do something.”

Kurt joined her on the floor of the hallway, his legs stretched out towards Finn’s closed door. “What’re we going to do to fix it?”

Kurt wasn’t sure what could be done, but he knew he had to try. If he was responsible for Sam, and there was a good possibility of that, then Kurt needed to know what Quinn wanted from him.

“We have to go to Breadstix tonight,” Quinn said, turning to Kurt. “We have to be there, and we have to get Finn up on time to be there too. He has to be there to show the team that he’s still okay, whether he is or not. And Sam, as the new quarterback, will be there too. Kurt, you’re going to talk to him. You going to tell him what a crappy thing this was for him to do, and then you’re going to give him an ultimatum.”

Kurt swallowed hard. “An ultimatum?”

“If this is your fault,” she said, voice shaking, “then you have to fix it. And if you have any kind of leverage with him, you have to use it. You tell him that if he doesn’t give Finn his spot back as quarterback, then you’re never going to talk to him again.”

“You can’t make me do that,” Kurt pointed out. And it would be difficult, considering Sam was his friend, and his partner in Bio.

“You need to do this for Finn.” Quinn’s eyes were hard and unforgiving. “You helped do this to him, so you need to help fix it. You tell Sam that you aren’t going to talk to him anymore, your friendship is done, and if he so much as tries to move on you, that you’ll tell Dave and that’ll be the end of it.”

Something was churning in Kurt’s stomach, acidic and painful. He knew what Quinn was saying was wrong, but he couldn’t bring himself to do anything but nod.

“I heard the guys talking,” Quinn continued, “they’re not happy with this. Some of them are as upset as Finn, and they’ll put their loyalty to Finn over winning a game any day of the week. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam had an accident one of these days, or didn’t have someone watching his back at all times.”

“That’s not right and you know it.”

“It’s the way things are,” Quinn said, sounding angry for the first time. “Sam came here and started messing things up from the beginning. I think he’s a nice guy, but we were very clear to him in the beginning. He knew the way things worked around here, who was top dog, and how to blend in. And he’s ruining everything.”

“No,” Kurt said softly, “he’s doing exactly what we told him to do. He’s just doing it a lot better than any of us, and that’s why everything is crumbling. He didn’t just learn how to play our game, Quinn, he learned to play it better. That’s it.”

“I don’t care,” Quinn bit out. “I don’t care about any of that, Kurt. You’re the one who can fix this, so you’d better. Think of your brother. Think of what Finn just lost and tell yourself you can’t fix it. Tell yourself you won’t try and do everything you can for him.”

And that, Kurt decided, pulling his knees up and resting his forehead on them, was how well Quinn knew him.

_________

August 3, 2007

It had never crossed Kurt’s mind for a moment that his brother could be a bully. The thought was incomprehensible. Finn was the hero, not the villain. Finn had always protected him, and been a great friend, and the best brother in the entire world. Kurt had been known to be a bit idealistic in his youth, but there was no doubt in his mind, Finn was not a bully.

And then, three weeks before the start of Kurt’s freshman year, seated in his living room while Finn and Puck wrested each other for possession of the game controller, Kurt learned that as far as his brother was concerned, there was most certainly a gray area.

“Dumpster toss?” Kurt asked, repeating back what Puck had said to him. “What’s that?”

There was a half eaten slice of pizza hanging from the corner of Puck’s mouth as he crossed his legs and dropped down to the left of Finn. Behind him Finn took control of the game on the screen and on the recliner that Kurt’s father liked to relax on after work, Dave shouted loudly at the television.

“It’s totally awesome!” Puck exclaimed, chewing loudly. “It’s where you take a kid, a real dweeb, hoist him up and then toss him in the nearest dumpster.”

“That sounds unethical,” Kurt said plainly.

“It’s cool,” Finn said with a shrug, barely paying attention. “It’s not like we hurt the kids or anything.”

Kurt raised an eyebrow. “The kids? You said it like you’re a senior. You’re only going to be a sophomore, Finn.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Finn argued. “Me and Puck do about a dumpster toss a day.”

“Swirlies?” Dave asked, eyes flickering from the television to Finn. “What about those, dude?”

Finn laughed. “Only during lunch period. You gotta know when to pick your battles. Not enough time between class periods for that kind of thing.”

The fact that Finn could be so callous, and unkind to someone had never really broached Kurt’s mind. Finn was, after all, one of the nicest people Kurt knew. The only time he’d ever experienced Finn’s nasty side was usually in defense of Kurt, and even then there were limitations.

“I still can’t …” Kurt said slowly, staring hard at Finn, “I can’t believe you do that to people.”

“It’s kind of like a rite of passage,” Finn said with a shrug. “It doesn’t matter Kurt. They’re asking for it anyway.”

Puck snorted loudly. “The ones who get it are the geeks, Kurt. The nerds. The losers. Everyone knows where they fall, after that.”

Kurt shook his head slowly. Things weren’t like that at all at his middle school. Kids could be cruel to each other, but there was no physical manifestation of that. Kids left Kurt alone because they remembered Finn from the year previous, but even if they hadn’t, Kurt wouldn’t have thought for a second that one of them had plans to toss him into a dumpster.

“Yeah,” Dave spoke up, reaching across to the coffee table in the center of the room for another slice of pizza. Kurt could barely look at him without flushing, thinking of the time they’d spent hours earlier that day in Kurt’s room kissing and touching. “Real losers.”

Puck sized him up for a moment, and Kurt demanded, “What, Puckerman?”

Puck made a face. “You’re kind of small, dude, so I guess we can count you out of the tossing. But you’d made a pretty decent lookout. I bet that’s what we’ll have you doing for at least a couple of years. Some of the teachers can get a little nosey, but they know when to back off.”

“I will not play lookout,” Kurt said, feeling outraged at the presumption. “And I won’t have any part of that bullying, either.”

“Kurt,” Finn said, dropping the controller and his fingers catching the skin at the crook of Kurt’s elbow. “It isn’t bullying.”

Suspiciously, Kurt asked, “It isn’t? Explain that to me, Finn.”

Finn seemed to fidget, like there wasn’t a solid answer at hand, but then he said, “Bullying is like, you know, when you actually hurt someone. We’re just having a little fun. We don’t hurt them, Kurt. We just toss them around. No ones ever had to go to the hospital or anything.”

“There’s a first time for everything, Finn. What if something happens?”

“Chill, Mother Theresa,” Puck said snappishly. “That’s just the way high school works. We’re not making you do it. So I’d just be thankful you’re Finn’s little brother, if I were you.”

There was a pause in the room and Kurt let the words process for a moment, then he asked Finn gently, “What are the prerequisites for these dumpster tosses?”

Finn’s eyes were wide as he said, “I have no idea what that word means.”

“What kind of people do you toss in the dumpster?” Kurt clarified. “Who do you decide is trash?”

Kurt’s mouth was dry as he waited for Finn’s answer. He had a decidedly morbid idea of where they conversation was about to head, and as much as he wanted to avoid it all, he couldn’t. He had to know.

“Not trash,” Dave said awkwardly.

Kurt rounded on him. “I imagine that’s how a person feels when they’re laying in a dumpster, having been placed there by general consensus of their peers. So yes, trash, David.”

“Don’t call me David,” Dave glowered. “You sound like my mom.”

“Or your wifey,” Puck teased.

“Dude.” Finn delivered a sharp punch to Puck that had the tan boy ducking away from future harm.

“What people, Finn,” Kurt asked again. “Who are the losers?”

Finn sunk a little lower on the couch. “Just, you know, the … the freaks.”

“Band kids,” Puck continued easily enough for him. “Chess Club losers, AV nerds. Anyone who sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Or, Kurt refused to voice, anyone who wasn’t on the football team, or popular. Anyone who didn’t conform or fit in.

“Like me.”

“What?” Finn asked, looking twice to Kurt in disbelief. “No, dude. Not like you. No one would ever do that to you.”

Kurt’s throat was tight with anxiety as he said, “That’s what Noah meant when he said I should be thankful I’m your brother. Because you’re on the football team, and popular and cool and people actually like you. They want to be your friend. So they won’t do it to me because of you. But Finn, if we weren’t brothers, if you and I--” Kurt couldn’t bring himself to finish the statement. He felt nauseas.

Puck’s mouth snapped shut and Kurt had his answer, even if it hadn’t come from Finn.

“Kurt--”

“If I wasn’t your brother,” Kurt told Finn flatly, “you’d be throwing me into a dumpster the very first day of school. And you’d be doing it because I’m never going to have a girlfriend and I fuss over my clothes and my voice is pitchy.”

Finn clambered suddenly to his feet, the sofa pillows falling down around him and his foot hitting the edge of the pizza box in his haste.

“Finn!” Kurt dove for the box, thinking of the grease stains and the carpet.

“Leave it,” Finn demanded, hauled an arm around Kurt and dragged him from the room.

They ended up in the nearby foyer, Kurt’s back pressed against the wall as Finn leaned in close, bracing both hands on their side of Kurt’s head.

“This is disconcerting,” Kurt remarked, staring up at his much taller brother.

Fiercely, Finn said, “I would never throw you in a dumpster, okay? You’re like the coolest person I know. You’re definitely the smartest, cause, you know, you use all those big words and read a lot and I’m pretty sure you know everything about everything. I wouldn’t, okay Kurt. I wouldn’t. You’re my brother and I’d never let that happen to you.”

Palms flat at his side, Kurt looked away and asked, “Do you ever think what our lives would be like if our parents hadn’t gotten married?”

“No?”

Kurt risked a smile. “Is that a question or an answer?”

“I don’t know, dude.” Finn shrugged. “I like my life. I like having two parents and a brother and everything that’s here.”

“I think,” Kurt said, “if our parents hadn’t gotten married, things would be very different.”

Finn made a face. “Different like how?”

“We probably wouldn’t friends, Finn. Face it, the one thing that binds us together is the fact that we’re family. If you remove that element, what you’re left with is a series of incompatible people who have nothing in common with each other. I’m not even sure we’d talk to each other at school. And whether you want to admit it or not, as soon as I’d be in high school, you and Noah and all of the other guys who are your friends, not mine, would be personally introducing me to the inside of a dumpster.”

Finn looked like he might cry. His face scrunched up, his eyes narrowed, and there was a slight shake to his shoulders. Kurt wondered if he’d gone just a bit too far. Finn was tough and strong in all the ways he needed to be, but for some things, the really delicate kind, he could also be fragile.

Kurt found himself quickly tugged into a strong hug, Finn wrapping completely around him and pulling him up to the top of his toes.

“Listen,” Finn demanded. “You’re my brother. I don’t care about the what ifs or the maybes or the could have beens. You’re my little brother and I will never let anything hurt you, Kurt. I won’t.”

“Finn,” Kurt breathed out, hugging his brother back.

“Don’t listen to anything Puck says,” Finn insisted.

“Even if it’s the truth?”

Finn made an unhappy sound. “No one is throwing you in any dumpster.”

Kurt settled back onto his feet and let his hands fall away from Finn. “I want to ask you something, Finn, and then I want you to think really hard before you give me an answer.”

“Okay.” Finn exhaled loudly. “What is it?”

Steadying himself, Kurt asked, “If the idea of me being put in a dumpster is so offensive to you, if it’s such a horrible thought, then why would you do it to anyone else?”

As Finn struggled to answer Kurt settled into the steady existence of what Finn was. His brother was good natured, and Kurt believed that Finn thought it was all teenage fun, but there was no denying anything anymore. Finn was a bully, and even if he wasn’t a malicious one, he still was a bully. Kurt wondered if that was what high school did to people. Did high school separate people automatically into victims and bullies? Was there a middle ground at all, or a gray area?

“I just …” Finn stammered.

“Take some time and think about that,” Kurt offered.

Kurt was sure Finn would, but he doubted it would change anything.

____________________

September 7, 2009

“They’re all going to laugh at me. I’ll be one big joke, and not even a good one.”

Kurt pressed his shoulder against Quinn’s in a show of solidarity as they both sized Finn up. They were both in their Cheerio red and white, urging Finn to take the jersey Kurt had laid out for him and put it on.

“We’re going to be late” Quinn reminded.

Kurt assured, “They won’t be laughing at you.”

Angrily, Finn demanded, “Why wouldn’t they? I’m the school laughing stock, why wouldn’t I be their’s?”

Quinn, who was always more brazen than Kurt, and equally as forceful as he was, caught Finn’s chin in a vice grip and said, “You listen to me, Finn Hummel. No one is laughing at you. Everyone who’s going to be there is your friend. And you know how much that means to them. They won’t laugh at you. And regardless of whether you’re their quarterback or not in writing, I’ve got a feeling you’ll still find that they think of you in that way.”

Curiously, Kurt looked to her. He’d had his doubts, honestly, about whether she’d stick by Finn’s side. Quinn was, without hesitation, his friend. She was one of the few he had, and he knew her well. He was proud to call her his friend, but there was a startling reality of her that made him recognize how much value she placed on the superficial. She loved Finn, there was no mistaking that, but how much more she loved her popularity, he couldn’t say. Still, she hadn’t moved from his side since finding out, and she’d been the first to come to him with comfort. It said something important, that she hadn’t dumped him right away, or changed the way she treated him. It spoke volumes.

“They’ll need you there,” Kurt said with a nod. “You know Noah, and Dave and all the guys. Out of the lot of you, you’re the brains, and that’s saying something. If you don’t keep them straightened out and in line, who knows what they’ll end up doing. Think of it this way, because even if you won’t go for you, go for them.”

Finn was still for a moment, then brought an arm around Quinn and hugged her tightly, kissing the top of her head. “Thanks,” he said, voice tight. “Thanks a lot.”

Kurt backed out of the room, Quinn following behind him shortly, and they worked in tandem to finish getting ready themselves.

“You’re going to do what we talked about?” Quinn asked, applying mascara in the nearby bathroom without looking at Kurt who stood behind her.

“I’ll do what I have to,” he told her.

She brushed at her eyelashes diligently. “Good.”

She hadn’t left Finn, he reminded himself, but he had to ask, “Are you asking me to do this so Finn can have his position as quarterback back?”

At that, Quinn did turn and look at him. Then she asked, in a tone as if she thought he was bit touched in the head, “Of course. What else would be the point? We all need this, Kurt, not just your brother.”

“What I meant,” he said staunchly, “was if you wanted me to do this for you. So you’d still be dating the star quarterback. So you’d be a shoe-in for prom queen. So you would still be HBIC.”

She scoffed, “Kurt, everyone knows you’re McKinley’s queen bitch.”

“That’s not funny. And I want a real answer.”

She leaned back against the sink in front of the mirror. “Kurt, God knows I’m a bitch, I’m shallow and conceded and selfish, but I want you to understand something and I’m only going to say it once.”

Silently, Kurt nodded.

She cleared her throat. “I love your brother. I love him a lot. And I won’t let him loose something that means this much to him. It’s only football to us, but to him it’s everything, and if we have to murder someone to get him that spot back, then we’d better go get a body bag and a shovel.”

He wanted to hug her so badly in that moment, but all he could manage was a weak, “The Navigator is big enough for a body to fit in the trunk.”

She nodded firmly. “Now come here. I’m going to put some eyeliner on you.”

Kurt ran for his life.

When they got to Breadstix, most of the team was already there, crowded into the big, party room at the back of the place, food piled high onto tables. Kurt spotted Dave and immediately made his way over, thankfully his boyfriend had understood when he’d called earlier and explained the situation, and asked for time alone with Finn. It had ended up time alone with Finn and Quinn, but all the same, Kurt felt like they’d made progress. At least if the way that Finn held his head high and accepted high fives from his teammates meant anything.

“Hey, babe,” Dave greeted, head tilting up to share a kiss with Kurt. “Everything good?”

Kurt nodded towards Finn who’d slid into a seat next to Azimio, reaching for a can of Coke. “Yeah, I think so. He’ll be okay, as long as he has his friends to stand next to him.”

Dave’s hand squeezed his and Kurt felt such a sweep of relief that his knees nearly gave out. “Count on the team to do that. Finn’s still our captain, no matter what Coach says. No matter what.”

Kurt kept a close eye on Finn that night, carefully monitoring his brother’s mood, making sure he remained happy all while surrounded by teammates and pretty girls in red and white.

Nearly halfway through the party, Sam arrived. Kurt’s eyes found Quinn’s right away. There was the sudden development of tension in the room, and a quieting of conversation right away. Sam sat at a table and accepted congratulations from several of the younger players. Kurt couldn’t fault them. They’d hadn’t been on the team long, and they weren’t as close as Finn was with some of the other guys.

When Sam rose to excuse him half an hour later, heading towards the bathroom, Kurt pressed a kiss to Dave’s cheek and said, “I’ll be right back. I need to freshen up.”

Dave’s hand grazed his backside and he remarked, “Don’t need to. You look hot.”

“This?” Kurt pointed to his eyeliner. “This is Quinn’s fault, and just you wait, I’ll get my revenge. She’ll be on the bottom of the pyramid by the Spring Formal. You just wait and see.”

Sam was washing his hands when Kurt entered the bathroom. It made him stop only a few feet in. He’d never really seen a teenage boy wash his hands without being told to. Kurt, up until that moment, had been completely convinced he was the only sixteen year old boy on the planet who willingly washed his hands after using the bathroom.

“Hey,” Sam said, looking up through his fringe.

Kurt wasted no time, thankful for the privacy they had, unwilling to think his luck would last. “We need to talk.”

“Okay.” Sam reached for a paper towel. “About what?”

“You’re the new quarterback?” Kurt took a cautious step towards him.

“That’s what Coach said. She tried me out on a bunch of positions, but I seem to be the best on that one. So when she offered me the spot, I said yes.”

Kurt’s lips felt so dry that he was certain they cracked as he asked, “And you just took the position because you wanted to?”

Sam frowned. “I took it because she said I’d be best for it, and she’s the Coach.”

“That’s the only reason?”

“Kurt, what are you getting at?” Sam was so close that Kurt could smell his aftershave.

“I told you,” Kurt said, the words coming out harder than he wanted them to, “that the position of quarterback was coveted. That the most popular kid in school was the quarterback, and the guy who had the most respect. I told you to your face, Sam, that I’d only go out with someone who had that. That I’d only break up with my boyfriend for you if you could keep the bullies away, and not damage my popularity or reputation. That’s what I told you, and now I’m asking you if you took that position because of what I said.”

For one, sharp moment, Kurt thought Sam was going to lie to him. And he’d know it was a lie because he knew Sam well enough now to predict him. He also knew how Sam felt about him, and there was no mistaking his intentions, even if he’d been a gentleman and not pursued the subject more than infrequently.

“It crossed my mind.”

Kurt turned away, fingers in his hair, nerves unraveling.

Sam’s hand was warm and firm as it caught Kurt’s shoulder and turned him back. “Well, won’t you now? I like you a lot Kurt, and I know you like me. You don’t have to say it. When we touch, when you look at me, I can tell, and know you can too. And I want you to give us a chance, and to let me prove to you that I can be a good boyfriend. This position, being quarterback, I can take you out now. I can protect you, better than Dave does now.”

“You don’t know anything about Dave,” Kurt said darkly.

“I know he’s big and he’s mean and that’s the kind of protection he gives you. You’re not some girl, Kurt. You’re not helpless, but you are gay and in Ohio, and I’m not trying to fault you for needing someone who can keep you safe until you move away and keep yourself that way.”

“He’s not mean.”

Sam shook his head slowly. “Kurt. I’m quarterback now. I’m popular, and I’m important. Give me a chance, that’s all I’m asking. Just give me a chance.”

“That’s my brother’s position, Sam.” Sam was taller than him, but only by a few inches, at least since Kurt had hit his growth spurt the past summer. It was easy to look into his eyes with a firm and unwavering gaze. It was hard however, not to lean into Sam’s hand. The mixed feelings were causing his heart to thump harder.

“I know,” Sam said awkwardly. “But it’s the best spot, and I needed the best to win you over.”

Kurt took a step away, forcing himself from Sam’s hand. He boxed his shoulders. “It’s absolutely laughable Sam, that you would think for one second that this would win me over. This is my brother’s spot we’re talking about. You didn’t just bump him out of the spotlight Sam, you destroyed his world. Finn’s had that position for two years now, and works himself to near death keeping it. Being quarterback is everything, Sam. It defines him. And Finn is my brother. Next to my parents, I love Finn more than anyone in this world. That means I’m absolutely loyal to him. What matters to him, matters to me.”

“Kurt.”

Sam reached out for him and Kurt snapped madly, “You ripped my brother’s world apart because you want to get into my pants? That’s supposed to be okay with me?”

“I don’t want to get into your pants,” Sam returned, just as roughly. “I want to get to know you. I want to be someone you trust and confide in and care for. I want to take you out and hold your hand and be able to proudly tell everyone that you’re my boyfriend. I want to be the first person to defend you and the last person you’ll ever doubt. That’s what I want. I want a relationship. I want you. And hey, some kisses would be great, and who knows what else, but I didn’t do this to get into your pants. Think anything else you want about me, but never that.”

“Then give it back!” Kurt pleaded. He was rapidly loosing control of the situation, and he knew Quinn would have been disappointed. She was always so good at manipulating people and situations, and she’d tried to make him better at it, but Kurt had never had the heart for it. “If you care about me, give Finn back his position.”

It was a moment too late before Kurt realized that Sam had moved them readily back against the nearby wall. Sam had him in a hold once more and he said, “I can’t give it back, and you know it. Coach made me quarterback, and I want it.”

“More than me?”

Sam blinked a bit dumbly before asking, “More than you?”

Kurt steeled himself. “I’ll break up with Dave. I’ll do it. I’ll go out with you. I’ll give you that if you give Finn that position back. That’s the deal, and I think it’s a damn good one. You should seriously consider it.”

“You love your brother that much?” Sam asked, eyes a bit squinted.

Kurt did. He loved Finn that much and more. He loved the boy who’d always stood up for him, and taken care of him, and protected him. He loved Finn, who never knew when to back off, or stop asking questions, or mind his own business. He loved the teenager who was just an oversized teddy bear with a heart of gold, and a bully who was really only that way because of peer pressure. He loved the boy who had never questioned Kurt’s moral compass, never taken anyone else’s side, or judged him. And for that, Kurt was willing to forsake his own happiness. He’d give up his own popularity to save Finn’s.

“I love Finn more than you can ever fully comprehend.”

He meant to only give Sam a graze, a taste or a hint of what was to come. Kurt had intended to seal the deal with the briefest of kisses, chaste and as light as he could manage it. He wanted to entice Sam, to sweeten the deal and not to give away more than he needed to.

So he kissed Sam. He leaned up breathed in Sam’s pleasant aftershave and kissed him.

Somewhere along the line, between the exploding stars, the toe curling excitement, the thundering of Kurt’s heart, and the dizziness that nearly took him off his feet, Kurt found himself dragging his fingers up into Sam’s hair. His mouth fit perfectly against Sam’s and it was electrifying, nothing like he’d ever experienced and better than his mother had ever said kissing could ever be. He lost himself, moaning happily, feeling Sam’s hands slide under his shirt, and then up his skin. And it was perfect. It was right. It was what Kurt hadn’t known he’d needed, and now wasn’t sure he could live without.

“Kurt,” Sam mumbled, breaking away for only a moment, then diving back in, kissing once more at his lips, then his jaw and his nose and his eyelids.

Kurt held him close, tightly, and unwilling to let him go. He couldn’t.

“Holy shit,” Sam said, nails raking gently at the small of Kurt’s back. “Holy shit, Kurt. Holy shit.”

When their mouth’s met once more there was the barest nudge of a nose from Sam, a silent question, and then Kurt responded, mouth opening and inviting Sam in.

“Oh. Wow. Kurt.”

That wasn’t Sam’s voice. Kurt knew that much, but he was certain his brain had stopped working, and if it hadn’t started to drip out of his ears yet, it was certain to start soon.

Breathing hard, feeling like he’d never have enough air again, Kurt tore his eyes open and looked towards the door of the bathroom. “Jason,” he gasped out.

“Look,” the teen said, “this is totally not my business, and I just want to pee, but I’m sure you’re really lucky it’s me who just opened this door, Kurt, and not Finn or Dave or any of the other guys.”

Sam stood there limply while Kurt sprung into action, straightening his uniform and smoothing out his hair. He brought the back of his hand up to his mouth and rubbed firmly, trying to brush away the past few minutes.

“You okay?” Jason asked, and Kurt tried to remember that the last time he’d seen him had been at the table Mike had been sitting at, his pretty red headed girlfriend trying to talk him into ordering something healthier from the menu. “Kurt?”

“You can’t,” Kurt said, having to lean forward to brace his hands on his knees, “you can’t tell anyone what you just saw, Jason.”

“Not my business,” Jason repeated, “and I think I’m going to go use a different bathroom, or pee in a bucket or something, and I suggest the two of you put some distance between yourselves. Kurt, maybe you should go back out to your boyfriend. He’s asking about you.” He exited the bathroom quickly and Kurt was left alone with Sam.

So quiet, Kurt had to strain to hear him, Sam said, “Holy shit.”

“Is that all you can say?” Kurt snapped at him. When he glanced at Sam he could see how badly he’d messed the blonde’s hair up, and how puffy his lips were. “But it’s okay, Jason is my friend. Jason won’t tell anyone. He’s my base.”

“Your base?”

“In cheerleading,” Kurt said quickly. “He throws me up in the air and then helps catch me. He’s the main barrier between my skull and the floor. Our relationship is … he won’t tell. He’d never.”

“I don’t care,” Sam said, suddenly too close to Kurt again. “That was amazing, Kurt. That was … that was legitimate. I know you feel the same way.”

“I do not,” Kurt denied, but his lips were pulsing and the words felt so dirty.

Sam’s eyes trailed down Kurt’s body and he said, “You’re half hard, Kurt. So am I. If that’s just from a kiss, imagine how explosive we’re going to be together if we …”

“Are you going to give Finn his spot back?” Kurt pushed at Sam, forcing him back. “That’s what you can have, Sam. I’ll kiss you as often as you want it, all the time if you do, and all you have to do is tell Coach Beiste that you’re stepping down.”

Sam blew out a sharp breath. “I can’t. And you shouldn’t be asking this of me, because you’re worth more than you’re offering, okay? I gave the coach my word. And I made a promise to the team. I’m not going to renege, not even for you, because I think I can have both, and I’m going to try.”

Kurt’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t have both.”

“But you want me,” Sam said, not cocky or arrogant, just honest.

“I’ll admit,” Kurt said, “that kiss was …” It was a struggle to find the right words, and even more to admit to Sam how spectacular the kiss had been. It was how Kurt had always imagined his kisses with Dave were supposed to feel. He wasn’t sure he could ever kiss Dave again and not feel the same explosions. “It was amazing. But it won’t happen again.”

Kurt made a mad rush for the door, and when he looked back to Sam, all he could see was determination. Worse, he believed the set look on Sam’s face.

When Kurt returned to his seat next to Dave at the table his boyfriend asked right away, “Are you okay?”

Kurt felt like he had cheater stamped on his forehead. “Of course.” Kurt look a long drink from his water. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Dave shrugged and turned back to his food while Kurt nervously reached for a breadstick and broke it into pieces, frantically dividing and counting them. His tick wasn’t unnoticed.

“Thanks for making me go,” Finn said to him later that night. They were both dressed for bed and lingering on the stairs. Further into the house they could hear the quiet murmurs of their parents barely over the television. “It really helped to know the guys are still my friends, and they’re not going to treat me any different.”

“Are you really okay?” Kurt asked, watching for a hint of deception. “I know this is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to you. I wouldn’t be okay if I were in your shoes.”

Finn crossed his arms. “Not the worst, Kurt. And you call me a drama queen. I mean, it’s horrible, but do you know what I’ve learned from you?”

“From me?”

“From you.” Finn poked a gentle finger into Kurt’s chest. “You taught me that in order to be the best, you have to put the best in. So I’m going to work twice as hard. I’m going to train longer and harder and pull double practices if I have to. I’m going to get my spot back Kurt, and I’m going to do it by being the best.”

“Finn,” Kurt said softly, and was even more embarrassed that he’d tried to force Sam’s hand over the issue.

“It’s not the end of the world. Now, are you okay?”

“Me?” Finn was hardly the perceptive one of the pair, at least not more than once in a blue moon.

Finn poked him once more. “Yes you. Don’t think I didn’t notice how upset you looked the whole night. You practically ripped your food to shreds. You have a fight with someone?”

“That’s your first assumption?” Kurt rolled his eyes and stepped up the last bit to the second landing before heading down the hall towards his bedroom. He knew Finn would be trailing after him.

“You can get a little hot tempered,” Finn called from behind him. “Don’t act like that’s a lie.”

Kurt paused, hand on the handle to his door. “I’m great Finn. I just … I figured some stuff out tonight. Important stuff.”

“Okay,” Finn said slowly.

“Go to bed.” Kurt opened his door. “Goodnight, Finn.”

After he was safely in his room, alone and with the door closed behind him, Kurt collapsed face first on his bed and groaned. He’d told Finn he’d figured some things out, and he had, but he’d also developed a hundred new questions and even more of a problem with Sam. He’d made leaps forwards but fallen back as well. And now he wasn’t sure where he stood. All he knew was that things with Sam were becoming even more complicated and he was even more aware of how unhappy he was with Dave.

Something had to change.

_____________________

September 1, 2007

Kurt had it on Quinn’s good authority that the Cheerio wait list was nearly two hundred names strong. Quinn had said in a jokingly way, but with enough edge that Kurt couldn’t really tell if she was being completely truthful or not, that girls put their names down for the Cheerios somewhere in late elementary school. Quinn made the Cheerios out to be the end all be all for high school girls, which really made Kurt wonder what he was doing standing on the McKinley field in red shorts and a white shirt emblazoned with the school’s logo.

Self-consciously Kurt tugged down on the shorts and said, “I still think this is a mistake.”

Quinn finished tying her hair up. She was dressed in her uniform, the only one on the field. It reminded Kurt that he was the only person trying out for the Cheerios who had a member of the team personally helping him.

“Don’t be crazy,” she said a bit shortly. “Sylvester is going to eat you up, and you practically don’t need to try out. Your anatomy gets you in.”

Kurt looked down instinctively. “Huh?”

“The girls,” Quinn clarified, “on a good day, need to slit each other’s throats to get a spot on this team. Boys are a little different. Sylvester needs them to catch and to act as supports.”

“And,” Kurt drew from that, “I’m guessing she probably doesn’t have them lining up around the block.”

Quinn’s eyebrows rose. “Men, or boys who think they are, often have a difficult time with her.”

“What is she, an Amazonian?” Kurt mumbled, then tugged at his shorts again.

Quinn slapped at his hands. “Stop that. Stop fidgeting. You look fine, and as long as Sylvester doesn’t think you have Tourette’s from all the moving around you’re doing, you’re on the team.”

From behind them, a tight voice said, “Don’t sound so sure of yourself.”

Kurt saw the tightening of Quinn’s mouth for what it was, and took a step back. He’d seen the angelic looking girl fight before. She was vicious.

“Santana,” Quinn said, “don’t you have an ass to kiss somewhere?”

Kurt didn’t know Santana, even if Quinn apparently did, but he did know the girl next to her, Brittany. Both girls were dressed like Kurt, but he could easily see them in the Cheerio uniform.

Santana assured, “Already stopped by Sylvester’s office. My lips are all kissed out, so it’s your turn now.”

“Hi, Kurt.” Brittany wiggled her fingers at him.

Kurt was certain Quinn and Santana were mere moments away from attacking each other when Sylvester appeared on the field, dressed in her routine track suit, bullhorn in hand.

“Whatever you do,” Quinn said quickly, voice low, “don’t show fear. She’ll single you out in a second if you fear her.”

“What is she, a bloodhound?”

Quinn’s silence was telling.

They ran laps at first, tested their flexibility afterwards, and then were subjected to varying degrees of verbal abused based on their individual evaluations.

Kurt thought, as Sylvester screamed at him how sloppy he was, how worthless he appeared to be, and how she could do better tumbling when she was four and apparently suffering from malaria than he could now, that he was doing okay. After Quinn had convinced Finn that the Cheerios were a good place for him, and the two of them had some how managed to talk him into it, Kurt had spent the entire summer training. Quinn had come over five days a week and they’d gone running together. She’d taught him basic tumbling, and he’d worked on becoming the healthiest he’d ever been.

His father still hadn’t stopped grumbling about the lack of red meat in the house and how little he’d seen Kurt over the past ten weeks.

“This is the kid, Q?” Sylvester asked when Kurt supposed she’d screamed herself hoarse. His knees were wobbly, he was sweating more than he’d ever, and his shorts had ridden up to an indecent height. He was too exhausted to tug them down again.

Quinn nodded. Kurt had seen how she’d been attached to Sylvester’s side for the entire process. She wasn’t head Cheerio, but Kurt knew it was the road she was traveling down. Apparently Sylvester had said as much, but Quinn had confided in him that if she ever let that get out, Quinn’s tongue was apparently forfeit.

“Kurt Hummel,” Quinn introduced.

Nearby Santana and Brittany were listening. Kurt wondered if they always came in a pair.

“Freshman,” Sylvester said, disgusted. “Fresh meat.” She leaned into him, mouth stretched tight. “I can smell your fear.”

Kurt might have squeaked.

“He’s perfect, Coach.” Quinn continued, “Just what you’ve been looking for. He’s small, light, and cute.”

Kurt worked hard to keep quiet. He knew he was small. He hadn’t hit his growth spurt, even if puberty had stated for him over the summer. Most of the girls at the tryouts, and almost all of the girls that Kurt knew, were bigger than him. When Kurt stood next to his father, and worse, Finn, he looked even smaller. And it was a sore spot for him, one that Quinn knew.

“He’s weak,” Sylvester said, and Kurt really hated that she and Quinn were talking as if he wasn’t even there. She thumped at Kurt’s knees suddenly, making them buckle a little. “Weak.”

“I am not,” Kurt said instinctively.

Sylvester glared. “When I talk to you, you’ll know, cream puff.”

Kurt huffed.

Quinn said, “He’ll be easy to lift Coach, and even easier to throw in the air. And contrary to what is coming out of his mouth now, he won’t give lip.”

Santana laughed. “Just tongue.”

Absently, Brittany touched her own tongue.

“Oh, you’re so clever,” Kurt said condescendingly. “But I know what movie you stole that from. And just for the record, you’re not half as evil as Courtney. You’re just a second rate hack.”

Santana sputtered and Sylvester emitted something that sounded suspiciously like a real laugh.

Quinn joined in with her own airy laugh, but only for a moment. Then she said, “Coach, I’ve been working with Kurt all summer long. I can put my word behind him.”

“You afraid of heights?” Sylvester asked through straight teeth.

“No,” Kurt said, unable to see how it was relevant. Quinn had said that her expectations of him on the Cheerios were low. As far as he understood, he was expected to look good in the uniform, jump around a lot and be a pretty face. He was going to be there for aesthetic, more than anything.

“You’re not big enough to support anyone,” Quinn had said month earlier when she’d been explaining the squad to him. “I wouldn’t put my life in your weak little arms. And you’re not strong enough to throw anything bigger than a hairdryer during one of your famous bitchfits.” In Kurt’s defense, Finn had insulted his Mary Jane’s, and the hair dryer hadn’t even come close to his brother’s head.

That was, at least, the way Kurt remembered the short lived conversation.

Now, standing in front of Sylvester, he wished it had been longer. He felt utterly unprepared.

“You look,” she said sneeringly, “like a fourteen year old milk maid.”

Kurt leveled himself up to his full height, straightened his shoulders and said, “I’m fifteen, actually. And the only time I’ve ever been around a cow ended up with that cow kicking me. So I don’t think your description is entirely accurate.”

He kind of thought for a moment that she was going to rip his head off. She looked like she wanted to, and Kurt got the impression that people didn’t stand up to her very often.

“My office tomorrow morning,” Sylvester barked at him, and then she was gone, tearing after a girl who’d failed to extend herself properly during a backhand spring.

“I feel,” Kurt said carefully, “like she just ate a part of my soul.

Quinn said, “That’s pretty normal. Welcome to the Cheerios.”

Kurt gaped at her. “What? I’m on the team?”

“She didn’t make you cry, did she?” Quinn asked, hand gesturing at several of the girls on the field who were sobbing.

“Are you sure?”

Quinn’s arm fitted easily around his waist and she told him, “I’m sure that Sylvester decided you were on the team about thirty second after she fist saw you. I keep telling you Kurt, you’re just too cute for your own good. The day you wake up and realize that is the day you start your bid for world domination.”

Kurt decided to count the day as a win.

The following morning when he arrived at Sue Sylvester’s office he found it was already occupied. There were two shapes in the room, one behind the desk and the other in front of it, and Kurt had to take several moments to steady himself before he was ready to step onto Sylvester’s territory.

“Milkmaid,” Sylvester demanded, “get in here!”

Kurt bit his lip at the nickname he had a feeling was going to stick with her. “Coach Sylvester, you wanted to talk with me?”

The other person in the room was male, tall and average looking. Kurt hadn’t seen him around with Finn before, so there was a good chance he wasn’t a member of any of the school teams. But he was good looking and the way he smiled at Kurt made him feel less nervous about Sylvester.

“I’m Jason,” the boy greeted, holding a hand out to Kurt, one that Kurt shook awkwardly.

“Gay tryst later,” Sylvester demanded, pushing back in her chair.

“I’m not gay,” Jason said easily enough, but didn’t look the slightest bit offended, much to Kurt’s relief.

Kurt felt obligated to say, “I have a boyfriend.” He and Dave had made the decision jointly. They weren’t going to hide in the closet, and they weren’t going to hide their relationship. Kurt thought it was nothing short of spectacular for his boyfriend. Dave wasn’t the out and proud type. His boyfriend still wasn’t completely comfortable with being gay at all. And Kurt knew, at least to some degree, that Dave was willingly having a public relationship with him for Kurt’s sake, because Kurt wanted it.

“Arms, this is the milkmaid I was telling you about.”

“Arms?” Kurt took a moment to look, and he deduced, even through the tee that the other boy wore, he did have nice arms. He worked out, Kurt could tell.

“Coach has a nickname for everyone,” Jason said with a laugh. “It’s no big deal.”

Kurt nodded slowly. “Okay. Do you know why I’m here?”

“Probably,” Jason said, sharing a quick look with Sylvester, “because my flier from last year fell water skiing over the summer and broke her arm.”

“Which is strictly prohibited,” Sylvester said. “You don’t do anything that isn’t personally authorized by me. Do you understand? That girl is eating through a straw now, and I’ll make damn sure the only cheering she does from now on is from the side lines at the Special Olympics.”

Kurt recognized the term flier from the conversations he had with Quinn. She’d flown in her first year on the Cheerios, and did from time to time now, but was a far better tumbler. It made Kurt ask, “So you’re a Cheerio?”

“Just because I’m a boy,” Jason said with a laugh once more, humored by Kurt’s doubt. Kurt thought it must be his personality. “Really, Kurt,” and Kurt wondered when the boy had learned his name, “it’s not such an impossible thing, right? You know Quinn, I know she’s told you. The Cheerios have all kinds of members, and both genders.”

“I knew,” Kurt said a bit defensively. “Maybe you know Finn? He’s on the football team? I came to watch him play at the school last year. He’s a year older. I saw that there were boys on the Cheerios then.”

Sylvester interrupted, “I lost five fliers last year. Two went off to waste their time and their sniveling parent’s money at whatever college was stupid enough to let them in, and Arms here told you about that idiot who was clearly engaging in prohibited behavior.”

“The other two?” Kurt dared to ask.

Thankfully it was Jason who said, “Carly’s doctor advised her against it this year, he said a second spine injury might just put her over the edge.”

“Weak ankles!” Sylvester’s fist slammed down on the desk, making Kurt jump.

“She fell a few too many times,” Jason said. “And the fifth, Jenna, well, she’s home schooling now. We should leave it at that.”

“So,” Kurt asked, “you’re looking for fliers.”

Jason gave him a wink. “You’re small, Kurt, but I can tell, you’ve got a great sense of balance, and Coach here swears up and down you were the most flexible person at tryouts. She wants to pair us together. We should give it a go. You’ll be my flier.”

“But …”

“But what?” Sylvester demanded.

“I’m a boy.”

Jason corrected, “Being a flier is all about your stature. It has nothing to do with gender. Stand up for me, will you?”

Jason was almost as tall as Finn, and Kurt fit perfectly under the crook of his arm. They were oddly complimentary, and as much as Kurt hesitated to admit it, he could see where the boy was coming from. “I see,” Kurt said.

“My last flier was just your height, Kurt. And probably weighed more than you do now. She also had your body type.”

“Pear hips,” Sylvester said, and Kurt frowned at what he took to be an insult.

Jason cleared his throat. “What I’m saying is that I need a new flier, and if you agree to it, I want you to be that. It won’t be half as hard for us because I’ll be used to someone like you, and it’ll probably make things a million times easier.”

Kurt wondered, “Are you going to be able to lift me? No, wait, are you going to be able to throw me? I’ve seen the Cheerios perform before. I know what it takes to get someone in the air. You can’t be that much older than I am, or that much stronger.”

“Milkmaid,” Sylvester said, “Arms here could lift a two ton elephant up, which is close to what his last flier was. He’s stuck with you. My mind is made up. You’ll train together from now on and eat, breathe and die for each other if I say so. Now get your flaming little rear ends out of my office before I change my mind and kick the both of you off the team.”

Kurt was halfway to the door before he hear Sylvester add, “And Hummel?”

Kurt paused at the sound of his real name. “Yes?”

“You’re on a celery diet from now on.”

“Huh?”

Jason caught up to Kurt at the door and opened it for him. “It’s what all the new Cheerios go on, especially the fliers. You’re only supposed to eat celery.” From the look on his face, he clearly didn’t agree with the diet.

“You have pear hips,” Sylvester called after them. “Take off fifteen pounds by the end of the month or you’re off the team.”

“Don’t listen to her too much,” Jason said when they were out in the hallway. “She tells all the girls they’re too fat. I don’t think she understands how it destroys their self esteem. She should be telling them they’re beautiful the way they are, but instead she tells them they’re heavy, and to go on celery diets. The boys get the usual ultimatum to hit the gym and bulk up, or they’re off. She tries to appeal to our sense of masculinity. It usually works.”

“You’re different,” Kurt ended up blurting out. He blushed, then added, “most boys don’t think that way, you know? They want their girlfriends to be a size two and anything other than that is ugly to them.”

It was nearly an hour before the start of school and the hallway was deserted, at least giving them the illusion of privacy.

“I have a feminist mother,” Jason said. “Well, I think most women are feminists. The term is pretty under appreciated and misinterpreted. It just means equality between the sexes. And my mother enforces it like the iron fist of fascism. How do you think I ended up on the Cheerios?”

“How did you?”

Jason had shaggy, auburn hair that moved when he spoke. And the teen was considerably animated as he said, “I’m not kidding about my mother. She and my dad have an agreement when it comes to us kids. There’s six us in total. I’m the youngest. They agreed, all of us had to learn some gender equality in as many ways as possible. So my sister played a bunch of sports when she was in high school and still does in college now. She’s really getting into boxing. And all of my brothers were Cheerios before me. Mom only makes us do it one year, but since they all ended up sticking it out all four years, I figured I might do it as well. It’s not that bad. Cheerios looks great on college applications, and I’m really building some muscle definition. All the guys in my family are big, and if I keep training, once I finish growing, I’m going to be as big as them. This is just a means to the end.”

Kurt clutched at his bag tightly. “And you don’t care that I’m … that I have …”

“If you’re going to be my flier I’m probably going to end up gabbing your butt about a dozen times each practice.” Jason was blunt, but friendly as he spoke. “My number one priority is getting you up in the air safely, and making sure you come down just as safely. That means it doesn’t matter where my hands go, as long as I break your fall as gently as I can. I don’t care who you kiss Kurt, I care about whether or not your boyfriend is going to have a problem with me holding you up by your ass from time to time.”

It was Kurt’s turn to laugh. “Dave might, but he knows better than to get huffy. He won’t be a problem. He’s trying this thing called being supportive. It may have taken him a while to realize it, but he’s starting to catch on that the more supportive he is of me, the more likely I’m willing to give my time and attention to him.”

“Good boy,” Jason joked. “Now what about your brother, Kurt Hummel. I have it on good authority that he’s terrible to deal with when it comes to you.”

“Who told you that?” Kurt wanted to know.

“About half the school,” Jason answered. “Word’s been out since yesterday that Sylvester has you pegged to fly. All of the guys who need fliers got very threatening notes in their lockers by the end of the day.”

“I am seriously worried about this student body.”

Jason said honestly, “Look, flying isn’t the safest thing you can do in cheerleading, at least not with how Sylvester runs this team. But it is the most exciting. I can’t promise you that you won’t get hurt, everyone gets hurt a bit. Freshman year my flier ended up breaking my nose in two places. It only just started to look normal this year. Accidents are going to happen, Kurt. If you aren’t prepared for that, then don’t do this, because I need you at a hundred percent. But I will promise you that I will do my very best to keep you from falling.”

“Have you ever dropped anyone?” Kurt asked.

He expected honesty from Jason, and was pleased when the boy said, “Yes. I have. But it has never been on purpose, and it never will be.”

Kurt let a bounce infiltrate his step as he and Jason continued down the hallway. “I never thought about flying before. Honestly, I never wanted to join the Cheerios to begin with. Finn and Quinn suggested it, to get my popularity going, and to have a team to watch my back.”

“Everyone has a reason. No judging here.”

When they reached Kurt’s locker Kurt said, “I know I’m small, okay, I get it rubbed in my face every day by my brother and father, but do you really think this is going to work between the two of us? Because I’m really okay just standing in the back and holding up a cardboard sign that says cheer on it.”

“We’re good,” Jason assured him, and then knocked him just hard enough in the arm for Kurt to feel like he imagined Finn did, like one of the guys.

That night he told his father, “And I think my limited stature is finally going to be good for something.”

It was obvious his mother was trying to hold back laughter as Finn asked, “Is that a nice way of saying you’re small?”

“Not where it counts,” Kurt mumbled to him. It was the dirtiest thing he’d ever said, spur of the moment, and he was sure only Finn had heard him.

Burt grumbled, “I guess that’s good.”

His mother swatted his father over the back of his head. It was endearing to watch. She said, “We’re absolutely thrilled for you, sweetheart. It’s such a nice activity for you to participate in.”

Through a mouth full of food, Finn said, “You wouldn’t say that if you knew Coach Sylvester. They call her Coach Satan for a reason.”

“Finn!” she said, outraged. “You might take a page from your brother’s book.”

“He has a lot of books,” Finn said, face pinched.

Kurt sighed. “It’s just an expression, Finn. It means you should be more like me.”

Burt poked his fork at Carole. “But honey, I’m glad Kurt isn’t on something like the football team. Kurt, not offense or anything, but I think you’d get killed out there. Finn’s a lot bigger than you. Cheerleading is safer. No giant teenagers mowing you down.”

Kurt shook his head and excitedly said, “I get to fly!”

“Fly?”

“Jason is going to throw me up in the air. I’m his new flier. I get to learn how to do all of those twists and flips in the air, and we’ll perform them at all the games and competitions. That’s what I was talking about earlier. I’m light enough to be thrown in the air.”

“Excuse me?” Burt choked, coughing loudly.

“It’s a very coveted position. Not everyone gets to fly.”

Finn took another bite of meatloaf. “I remember watching Quinn fly last year. I always thought she was going to fall and break her neck. I think some girl did last year.”

“You’re not helping,” Kurt snapped at him, already making sense of the panic on his parent’s faces. He assured them, “Quinn lent me her rulebook yesterday. I’ve been reading up on flying. It’s illegal for them to throw me up without more than three people to catch me. And Jason, my base, he’s going to be making sure I come down just fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

He had to work on his parents a bit more after that, explaining safety procedures and rules that he’d just learned. And by the end of dinner he was certain he had his mother on his side, and would have his father by the first time he performed.

Kurt was also delighted to learn how easy it was to push food around on his plate and escape notice. Finn took double helpings and Kurt was such a light eater to begin with that by the time he took his plate to the sink, he had remained allusive. No one had noticed how little he’d eaten. Kurt realized in that moment, escaping to his room with a baggy of raw vegetables he’d portioned out earlier in the day, that loosing fifteen pounds was possible, and more than achievable. He just needed to be smart about it.

He was going to loose the weight, he was going to fly, and everyone was going to be proud of him.

________________

September 8, 2009

“I had a dream about you last night.”

Jason withdrew his calculus book and said, “A good one, I hope. I’ve never given anyone a nightmare before. I wouldn’t want to start now.”

“No.” Kurt sniffled a little. He was coming down with something, he knew it, and worse, his mother knew it. She’d ambushed him with medicine that morning, the nasty cherry kind, and Kurt could still taste it. “It was good. I dreamt of the first time we met.”

A bright smile lit up Jason’s face. “I remember that. Sylvester’s office. You were so young back then.”

“I haven’t exactly aged a few decades over night, or anything.”

“No,” Jason agreed, “but you’ve shot up four inches, put on a good bit of muscle and your hair is much better now.”

Kurt’s hand went to his coifed hair instinctively. “You are mean and unnecessarily cruel. Leave my hair out of this. It did nothing to you.”

“Fair is fair.” Jason closed his locker. “Was it just a memory?”

Kurt nodded. “I think maybe because we’re going to start training together again. Or maybe just because I needed something good to dream about.”

“You haven’t told your father about us, have you?”

Kurt hadn’t. He was looking for the perfect opportunity to break the news to his parents. And maybe he was trying to calm down over the fact that his father had gone behind his back and told his coach to prohibit him from flying, and for a reason that pulled painfully at his heart. Ultimately it was a reason that he knew would have Kurt backing off without hesitation, and without question.

“He won’t be okay with it,” Kurt said. “Which is why I may just end up waiting until our first game to show him, rather than say anything.”

“You could give him a heart attack on the spot.”

“Not possible.”

With a shrug, Jason said, “And more importantly, I think you should be aware of the fact that we both know Finn Hummel can’t keep a secret to save his life. I’m surprised your dad doesn’t already know. I think he will by the end of the day. You may want to think about springing it on him sooner, rather than later.”

Kurt nodded silently.

There was a flicker of emotion across Jason’s face, the kind that Finn had when he was worried, and Kurt knew right away that they were about to talk about the kiss. They were going to have it out, once and only once, but they were.

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?” Kurt had told Sam that Jason wouldn’t, but he’d begun to doubt how sure he’d been. Jason was loyal, almost to a fault, but he wouldn’t hesitate on matters that he knew were best for Kurt, whether Kurt wanted them or not.

Jason reached out and brushed at Kurt’s bangs, a familiar gesture that made Kurt swallow hard.

“I’m not,” Jason said finally. “It isn’t my business. It’s between you and Sam Evans. If you want me to pretend to forget what I saw, then I will.”

Their voices were low, and amongst the murmur of the crowded hallway, Kurt was sure they couldn’t be overhead. It was why he risked saying, “I never meant to let it get that far. It was a mistake.”

“That it got that far, or that you kissed him at all?”

Shortly, Kurt said, “My life is a little complicated right now, okay? You wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain to you why I let Sam put his tongue down my throat.”

Jason eyes widened and his mouth curled upward. “There was tongue? Kurt, you harlot. Give me all the details.”

“You know,” he pointed out, “you sound like a fourteen year old girl.”

“My sister and I are closest in age. For all intents and purposes, I was her sister.”

“There is something really wrong with that statement.”

Jason nudged Kurt. “Really, tell me why.”

“Just … there are some things that I’m not comfortable with.”

“There are a lot of things you’re not comfortable with, Kurt. You’re kind of a prude, but the good kind.” Jason smiled kindly. “But more importantly, Kurt, are you stringing David along?”

“Dave?” Kurt asked, not expecting the turn of the conversation. “Am I stringing him along?”

“I said it wasn’t my business,” Jason responded, “but you know it isn’t right to play those two boys against each other. We’re boys ourselves Kurt, we know how stupid and clueless our gender can be. You have to go easy on them, you’re much smarter than they are.”

Kurt breathed out, “Your mother would be so proud of you. But Jason, really, I promise, I’m not stringing anyone along.”

“Then the kiss?”

“Poor judgment,” Kurt dismissed. “I took a chance and it didn’t play out in my favor. If anything it made things worse. I’m not leaving Dave and I’m not cheating on him. That was the last of it with Sam, and that’s why I’m asking that you don’t tell anyone what you saw. This could ruin a lot of relationships, not just my own. Please.”

Jason’s fingers curled reassuringly around Kurt’s wrist. “I already told you I wouldn’t tell. You have my word.”

Kurt nodded. “Then, I’ll see you at practice today?”

“Three sharp,” Jason agreed. “And Kurt, just try and remember, emotions are a funny thing to play with. They’re easy to hurt, hard to repair and complicated at best. They’re not child’s play when we’re our age, and we may be a little too young to know what love is exactly, but we’re getting there.”

Kurt made a face. “Thank you Doctor Phil.”

Jason swatted at him and Kurt took off down the hallway, feeling better prepared to see Sam in Bio, and finish the day with a positive outlook.

And it kind of looked like things were going to absolutely perfect by lunch. He and Sam hadn’t mentioned the kiss once during Bio, and had worked perfect well together, tension at a minimum. It was almost as if it hadn’t happened, except every time Kurt glanced at him from the corner of his eye he could still remember the pressure of Sam’s lips against his own, and the warmth of his breath against Kurt’s skin. He could still remember the rightness of it.

At the end of his last period at school, Kurt tossed his bag over his shoulder and headed towards the south side of the school. On Wednesdays the Titans had a break from practice, and the Cheerios had double practice. It was usually the one time Kurt relented and let Finn have the car after school. His brother was typically fearful enough of Kurt’s wrath to bring the car back vacuumed and washed, and rid of all evidence of whatever Titan orgy had taken place in the car gone.

“Finn!” Kurt called out, his brother standing out easily in the hallway.

“Hey,” Finn said, and he seemed demure, and so unlike himself. It made Kurt slow and reach him at a crawl.

“Finn,” Kurt said once more. He held the keys to the Navigator out to him. “I was thinking you and Noah and maybe Mike and Matt could go down to the local rink. Get some milkshakes, pretend like you’re badasses. Whatever you teenage boys do.”

There was a forced smile on Finn’s face, then he reached out and curled Kurt’s fingers around the keys. “I won’t tell dad, okay? I won’t tell him you’re flying again, even though he’s going to be mad and worried and probably yell, at who I’m not sure.”

“Thanks.” Kurt looked down at his fist, fingers closed over the keys. “Thanks, Finn.”

“But if that guy drops you on your head, I’m going to crack his. And don’t, you know, push yourself too hard. Your doctor said you’re going to break bones more easily now, at least for a while. And if you have any of those, what did he call them, heart beat things, you’re supposed to call for help right away.”

“Heart palpitations,” Kurt answered for him. “And I haven’t had any for a while now. Weeks. There’s nothing to worry to worry about.” Once more Kurt offered the keys to Finn. “But don’t you want the car? I can get Jason to drop me off at home after practice.”

Kurt felt himself tilting a bit in confusion, his chest seizing up as he watched his brother’s eyes water. “Finn?”

“I … I have somewhere to be after school today.”

There was a nearby classroom, empty and the door open, and Kurt seized the opportunity. He grabbed Finn roughly and dragged him in, demanding, “What’s going on?”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Finn rushed to say, flushed, sweat gathering at his forehead. “It wasn’t mine, Kurt. I don’t know how it got in there. I don’t … I don’t know what to do.”

“What?” Kurt held tighter to him. “Slow down and start over.”

Finn nodded frantically. “It’s Mr. Schue. He called me into his office today. He told me, God, Kurt, he told me he found pot in my locker today. He showed it to me, and it was in a little baggy and everything. My life is over.”

“Pot?” That wasn’t like Finn at all. Finn put athletics and his friends and the right thing above everything else. Finn wasn’t a druggie. In fact Kurt was pretty sure the only pot that Finn had ever seen was on a badly acted, twenty year old public service announcement that his health class had watched freshman year. Finn wouldn’t have known pot if someone had rolled it up in front of him and lit it. That much Kurt knew for sure. And his brother certainly didn’t have any in his locker.

“Finn. Finn!” Kurt pulled him down so they were eye level. “Mr. Schuester said he got pot from your locker?”

“It’s not mine,” Finn wailed.

“I know that.” Kurt shook him a little.

“I don’t know how it got in there,” Finn continued, and he sounded like he might hyperventilate.

Kurt thought frantically, and came up with, “What about Noah? He’s quick to brag that he has access to it. God knows the one time I saw him smoke it he choked like his lungs were burning up, but he has the combination to your locker. Could it have been him?”

Finn gasped a little. “No way. He’s on probation. You know after he smashed through Mr. Cobb’s mailbox and took out half of the nearby fence and ran over Brittany’s cat that he got off with community service. And he had to promise, Kurt, absolutely promise that he wasn’t going to get into any more trouble. He wouldn’t risk going to juvie, not for some pot.”

“Who else has the combination?” Kurt demanded. “Quinn?” But she was even more unlikely.

“He told me he had to report me, Kurt.” Finn knelt down on the ground, knees hitting the floor hard and hands bracing staunchly. “And that I’d get suspended, or maybe expelled. There could be criminal charges. And then the police would call mom and dad, and they’d be so upset and I’d ruin my whole life. He said it would happen.”

Kurt knelt down next to him and settled his hands on Finn’s shoulders. “He won’t do it, Finn. He’s a good teacher, daft and repetitive, but a good teacher. He knows you’re a good guy.”

Finn leaned his forehead onto Kurt’s shoulder. “He said that. He said he knew it was just a mistake. And that’s why he’s doing this for me, Kurt. All I have to do is join Glee club and he’s going to make it all go away.”

Kurt froze, joints locking up and air quickly deserting his body. Slowly and meticulously he enunciated, “That’s exactly what he said to you, Finnegan?”

Finn looked up. “He said he would make it all go away if I agreed to join. Kurt, I can’t do that to mom and dad. They love me so much, Mr. Schue is right, it would ruin everything. I have to join.”

His mouth was dry and there was a collected rage settling over Kurt before he managed to say, “That bitch.”

“Mr. Schue?”

“Rachel Berry.”

Kurt had it all worked out, and it wasn’t even the most clever plan he could imagine. But it all made sense and everything fit. He knew how interested Rachel was in Finn, and he knew first hand from their previous talk how desperate she was to get Finn involved in Glee club. Kurt had heard the talk around school. Mr. Schue had once been a member of McKinley’s Glee club, and was trying to rekindle that part of his youth by taking over for the previous director who’d been excused. He was probably as desperate to have Finn as she was, especially if Sam had been truthful when he’d said the club was comprised of five members. It was entirely too possible to believe that Mr. Schue had seen Finn’s obvious weakness, his family, and planted the pot. Rachel had enabled him and together they’d nearly destroyed his brother, and so quickly after he’d lost his position as quarterback.

“No,” Finn denied. “She wasn’t there.”

Kurt stood up, hands on his hips. “Finn, go home.”

“Glee club,” he tried to protest.

“Go home,” Kurt said once more, trying desperately not to let his anger seep into any words he had with Finn. “I want you to take the keys to the Navigator and go home and do your homework. You don’t say anything to anyone about this, and you forget it ever happened.”

“He’ll tell,” Finn said, looking up and looking desperate and destroyed.

Kurt offered a hand down to Finn, and though it nearly took him off his feet to pull his brother up, he anchored himself and tugged hard.

“I’m going to go have a talk with Mr. Schue.”

Finn blanched even further. “You’re got that funny look on your face.”

“My face always looks this way, Finn.”

Finn shook his head. “No, that’s the face you have when dad tries to sneak KFC into the house, and he thinks you won’t smell it. It’s the face you made when mom took your bedazzler away because you went a little crazy and put rhinestones on her work uniform. And that’s really the look you had on your face when Puck and I accidentally took that pretty blue scarf you loved so much and used it to clean up the lasagna that exploded in the microwave that one time.”

Kurt nearly threw the keys at Finn. “My McQueen scarf. My two hundred and fifty dollar Alexander McQueen scarf.”

“Yeah, that’s the face. It’s the face that makes me really thankful you would never get your hands dirty with murder.”

Kurt huffed, “Never directly.”

Finn pursed his lips for a second, then asked, “You’re going to go talk to Mr. Schue?”

“We’re going to have words,” Kurt nodded. “I’m going to clear this mess up, Finn. I’ll take care of it.”

They were still holding hands, and Kurt had forgotten, at least until Finn squeezed his fingers a bit too hard and just so Finn like.

“Dude,” his brother said, “I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

But Finn’s eyes were still wet, and he was sweating now, and Kurt couldn’t stand by and let it pass. He had to say, “It’s my turn to be the big little brother, okay? Go home, Finn. Help me out here. Just go home and wait for me.”

Finn squeezed a final time, then held the keys awkwardly and said, “You’re the best brother a guy could ever have, Kurt. I don’t know if you can fix this, I don’t know if you should try, but you’re going to, and … and …”

“Go home,” Kurt said gently. “Or better yet, drive to the mall and go to Body Works. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come home a veritable mess of limbs. I’ll be uncoordinated, achy and pissy. Go and get me some bath salts. I ran out earlier this week and I think I’ll want to take a bath tonight. I like the lavender scent, but I’m willing to settle on fresh cucumber if they’re out. Don’t get me cherry blossom again.” Kurt coughed a little, thinking immediately of the cherry syrup from that morning.

“I think I should be writing this down,” Finn said. “What was the first one again?”

Mr. Schue’s office was located just a short distance from his Spanish classroom. Kurt knew that Mr. Schue knew Finn from that class. Most of the football players ended up in Mr. Schue’s class for one glaring and obvious reason. It was no school secret that Mr. Schue was an absolute softie when it came to grading, and passed nearly all of his students, deserving or not. Kurt took French not Spanish, and planned to put the language to good use when he studied fashion in France the summer between his high school graduation and his first semester at college. Kurt knew Mr. Schue only by reputation, and now by a lowball attempt at blackmail.

Mr. Schue was still in his office when Kurt arrived. He knocked once, then twice, and strode right in, settling into the chair across from the teacher’s desk without being asked to.

“Kurt?” the teacher asked, clearly unsure. It was the first time, Kurt realized, that they’d been in the same room, save for the auditorium, in the several years Kurt had been at the high school. And they’d never been introduced.

Kurt said, “Kurt Hummel. Finn’s brother, and I’d like a moment of your time, if you have it.”

He knew he had Schue uncomfortable the moment he’d mentioned Finn’s name. There was a stream of guilt in front of him that Kurt could see plain as day.

“I have to leave for Glee practice soon,” Schue said, “but I have a few moments.”

“And I have a few questions.” He crossed one leg over the other and glanced at the nearby wall clock. Cheerio practice was set to begin in less than twenty minutes, and he needed to meet Jason in fifteen. Pressed for time, he asked, “How stupid do you think my brother is? Honestly, I want to know. Do you think he’s Sesame Street stupid, or get pinned with having a joint in your locker that isn’t yours to begin with and let your favorite teacher blackmail you with it stupid?”

“Kurt …”

“Finn is not stupid,” Kurt said, cutting of whatever the teacher had to say. “He’s naive, and easily influenced, not to mention he spends most of his life being confused by things, but that doesn’t make him stupid. And more importantly, Mr. Schue, I’m even less stupid than Finn is. I know my brother better than he knows himself, and Finn wouldn’t know what pot looked like, let alone how to get it, even if someone lit it up right in front of him and offered him a hit. You have him in your Spanish class. Can we agree on that?”

Schue was rattled, and turning an interesting shade of red as he rushed to say, “The evidence was right there, Kurt. Now I know we don’t want to think these things of people we love--”

“It’s football season,” Kurt snapped. “And during football season Finn, who is like a human garbage disposal, starts to bulk up. He cuts down his fat intake, has double portions of everything that is high in protein, and he starts spending twice as long working out. He takes it very seriously. That’s what makes the pot even more unbelievable. Maybe if you’d waited until after football season, you would have gotten a little further than to this point, but not now. Finn won’t so much as touch a Butterfinger for the first few weeks of football, and especially now that he’s working to get his old spot back.”

“I have the evidence,” Schue said, and the man retrieved a baggie from his desk. “Now Finn is a good kid. I don’t want to go to Figgins with this. I don’t want to have to tell him that I found this in your brother’s locker. That’s why I proposed the compromise for Finn.”

“What were you even doing in my brother’s locker to begin with?”

When Schue didn’t answer right away Kurt was more convinced that the teacher hadn’t been.

“I hardly think that’s the most important thing here, Kurt.”

Kurt’s hands folded over his crossed knee. “My brother’s locker jams, Mr. Schue. It jams and you have to know the perfect way to jiggle the handle while spinning the dial for it to open. Finn’s had that locker for going on four years now and he still can’t get it on the rainy days when his fingers are wet. That’s why I’m far more inclined to believe that you never found anything in his locker, and you just told him you did.”

Mr. Schue stood and said, “I think this conversation is over, Kurt. We can take this to the principal’s office if you’d prefer.”

Kurt remained seated. “I’m far more interested in how you developed this idea. I’m well aware of how Rachel Berry has you wrapped around her little finger. She’s good, damn good, and don’t think I don’t know how badly she wants Finn. I wouldn’t be surprised if she convinced you how essential Finn is to your little club, and that’s what drove you to this.”

Fleetingly, Schue said, “We need more people. Finn is a leader at this school. If he joined Glee, other people would follow.”

“I already asked Finn if he wanted to join Glee, mainly to get Rachel off my back and away from me.” Kurt watched Schue slowly sink into his seat. “He said no. And his reasons are his own. Just because you decided to perv on my brother one afternoon in the showers and you found out he can sing, doesn’t mean you get to force him to join whatever you have going on. It’s a club, not a draft. Finn said no and you couldn’t respect that.”

Schue leaned forward. “Your brother has amazing presence, Kurt. His voice needs some improvement, but the charisma is there, and the potential. I’m certain if he and Rachel worked together, they could take Glee club all the way to nationals.”

“That’s your dream,” Kurt said peevishly, “and Rachel Berry’s. Not Finn’s. How dare you try and force someone to live out your dream.”

“I think you should leave now.”

“You know my dad?” Kurt asked curiously. “Burt Hummel? Of Hummel Tire and Lube? Bigger than me, likes hats and flannel?”

Schue nodded. “I remember him from …”

“Ah.” Kurt agreed, “the flamethrower incident. To be fair, I would have guessed he’d go for the rifle before that, but he wasn’t thinking. That’s what happens when you’re running on adrenaline. He nearly set Sylvester on fire, you know. He was really trying, and not even my mom could stop him, and she’s got him on a tighter leash than Berry has you. So I wonder what he’d do if I went home and told him that a teacher that was loved and respected was trying to plant drugs on his son.”

Schue turned pale, paler than Kurt had thought possible.

“I wonder,” Kurt repeated. It was too easy, the threatening and the disrespect he was showing. He understood how Quinn did it so effortlessly, and why Santana liked it so much. Manipulating people and passive aggressively threatening them was an art, and it was one that was far from a pain to practice.

“I would simply explain to your father,” Schue said, voice shaking and confidence gone, “the situation, and hope that he--”

Kurt’s hands stilled from where they’d begun tapping against his knee. “My father nearly killed, Sylvester, Mr. Shue. There’s a restraining order out against him with her. And since then he’s become even more protective over myself and Finn. He’s also watching our teachers carefully. He never thought they would deliberately hurt us before, and he knows better now. If I tell him this, he may just decide to dig that flamethrower out once more. I think he’s got the lighter propellant working at full strength right now.”

They sat quiet in the office together after that, both thinking, and Kurt wondering if he’d said enough to save Finn.

And then he knew he hadn’t, because Schue said, “It would only be your word against mine, and I still have the evidence.”

There was a line that Kurt had known always existed with him, one that he’d vowed never to cross. But this was Finn, and if there was a better reason, Kurt had yet to come across it.

Kurt crossed the line and asked, “Mr. Schue, do you remember who was the director of the Glee club last year?”

With a frown, the teacher said, “Of course I do. I’ve known Sandy Ryerson for years.”

“Then you know why he was dismissed.”

Schue cleared his throat and said, “I believe everyone knows that--”

Kurt finished for him, “that he took a less than innocent interest in a student, and Rachel went flapping to the principal, not only humiliating the school, but ruining two lives in the process. I’m not saying what happened was okay, or that I know the specifics at all, but the way I understand it, Principal Figgins is under strict orders never to let something like that happen again. His job is on the line.”

“I would never,” Schue said, and it was the first time Kurt believed him, “ever take advantage of a student that way.”

“I know you wouldn’t.” Kurt nodded. “You’re a decent human being, probably one of the few at this school, but other people don’t know that. And they’re probably going to believe me when I go running from this room in about ninety seconds, calling for help because you just tried to push me up against your desk and kiss me. Your hand is also going to go dangerously close to my rear end.”

“Kurt!” Schue braced both hands on his desk. “Those are serous accusations that can ruin careers. They’re not something to joke around with.”

Kurt managed to his own feet. “I’m well in control of the situation, Mr. Schue. And what I’m doing may be deplorable, but this is the point I’m pushed to. So I propose a deal.” Kurt straightened his clothing and took a step away. “I can turn around and walk out of this office and the both of us will never talk about this again. That’s if you make the drugs disappear and leave my brother alone.”

“Or?” Schue asked, looking moments away from passing out.

“Or I go right to Figgins and tell him that you tried something. You’ll loose your job, your wife, your friends, and any semblance of respect you might have had among your peers. I’m out and proud, Mr. Schue. If it’s my word against yours, at least on this topic, I think I’ll win. And then I suggest that you run. I suggest you run very far and very fast, because if my father doesn’t come after you, my mother may, and don’t forget about Finn, and Dave and all the other people in my life who will have no problem seeing me as the victim. They won’t even question it. That’s if you don’t make the pot go away.”

Schue nearly sounded pleading as he said, “Don’t do this, Kurt. Don’t bring yourself down to this level.”

“You tried to blackmail my seventeen year old brother with drugs,” Kurt said darkly. “And your mistake wasn’t the blackmail, Mr. Schue, it was how poorly you did it. I’m better. And I’ve just one upped you. So make your decision, and keep in mind that I’ve been able to cry on cue since I was twelve.”

“Kurt.” Schue closed his eyes and nodded. “Alright. I’ll back off.”

“And see about Berry,” Kurt added. “You might also want to tell her that she should really figure Finn out before she tries to get you to manipulate him. The both of you tried to play into his fears of letting the people he loves down in his life. But that’s not his greatest fear. You never hit on the one thing that would best get him to do what you want, and because you never figured that out, you never had a chance.”

It was for Finn, Kurt told himself as he left Schue’s office less than a minute later. He’d crossed the line for Finn, and used his sexuality against someone in a way he’d sworn he never would. For Finn it should have felt like a victory, but all Kurt felt was dirty. He felt wretched, and as he headed to practice, he couldn’t wait to feel the horrible burn of the long workout ahead of him.

By the time Kurt got home dinner was long over, his mother was due home from her shift at any time and Kurt could hear his father in the kitchen, the sink running as he likely did the dishes.

“Hi,” he greeted, passing through, muscles protesting with every step.

“Hold it!” his father called out, making Kurt wince and stop.

Kurt swung back around towards him. “Yes?”

Burt was up to his elbows in soapy water, hat on backwards and nearly all of the dishes finished. His mouth was pulled tight and Kurt could tell he was over thinking something as he said, “Your coach called me this afternoon.”

“Sylvester?” Kurt asked with disbelief. “About what?”

“You …” Burt stopped, then started again, “The rules haven’t changed.”

“Rules?”

Burt nodded. “For Cheerios. The permission slip, kid. I have to sign it if you’re going to do that again.”

“Oh.” Kurt had forgotten. Fliers were required to sign waver forms, along with permission slips. Once a year it was required, and his previous one had lapsed months ago. “So I guess you know, right?”

“Would be hard not to.” Burt scrubbed at a place. “Just tell me you were going to say something.”

Kurt argued, “Of course I was. I was going to tell you tonight, actually. Honestly. I’ve just been too nervous to say anything.”

Burt asked, “You think I’m not going to sign, or try and forbid you from doing it?”

Kurt leaned back against the wall, trying to take pressure off his legs. “No, but you told my coach to lie to my face. You told her to tell me she wasn’t going to let me do it anymore. If Jason hadn’t told me the truth, if he hadn’t been convinced I could do it, despite what you and Doctor Meyers think …”

Burt finished he plate at hand and moved on to the last of the silverware. Voice rough, he said, “It’s not that we don’t think you can do it. Kurt, you’ve never not been able to do anything. You’re that kind of kid. But you can’t fault your old man for looking out for you. I almost lost you. I’m not going to have a repeat of that, and I don’t want this to be a trigger. You know it could be.”

“It won’t be.” Kurt dug his feet in. “And anything could be a trigger. A TV commercial could be on, or something a friend says. Dad, I can’t live my life in fear that I’m going to break down and fall back into bad habits. I want to do this. I want to fly. I won’t get to do it next year. Jason graduates and so do most of the boys on the Cheerios. There won’t be anyone strong enough to lift me, just a bunch of underclassmen. If I don’t take this opportunity now, I won’t get another chance until college, and I don’t think I’ll want to do this in college.”

He could see his father working hard not say anything while he spoke, and Kurt appreciated the restraint.

“I gave Sylvester my verbal consent. You just go sign some papers tomorrow and you’re back in the air.”

Kurt nearly wept with relief. “Thank you.”

“You tell your mother,” Burt called out to Kurt as he headed towards the stairs. “You hear me?”

When Kurt reached his bedroom door, Finn’s own door cracked open, and his brother’s head popped out. Finn asked, “How did it go?”

Kurt sighed. “Mr. Schue will leave you alone. There was nothing in your locker. It was a misunderstanding.”

Finn’s hands twisted nervously. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“You’re my brother,” Kurt said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

Then suddenly, Finn said, “While you were at practice, Rachel called.”

Kurt felt his mouth hang open a bit. “Rachel Berry? The original cause of this whole mess? She called here? How did she even get the number?”

Finn shrugged. “I guess she asked around for it. I don’t know.”

“What did she want?”

“She called to apologize,” Finn answered. “She explained some things and she apologized. I think she meant it. And she’s pretty nice when she loses the competitive bite. We talked for almost an hour.”

“Finn,” Kurt said tryingly.

Finn scoffed, “It’s not like she’s going to be my friend or anything, Kurt. But I think I understand her a little bit better.”

Kurt nudged his bedroom door open, then paused, seeing the mass of objects on his bed. “Finn?”

Finn rushed to his side, exclaiming, “I went to the mall, just like you said. But then I got there, and I couldn’t remember if you asked for bath salt or sea salt. And the lady was just kind of looking at me funny, and she asked if I meant body wash, or bath wash, and then there was this two for three deal, and a buy one get one free deal and I didn’t know which was the better deal. I wrote down what you like, and what you didn’t like, but they had all these fusions things, like, where you take two scents and mix the together, so I was scared I was going to get you peppermint lavender and you were going to hate it, and isn’t cherry blossom a fusion? Or are cherries okay on their own? Do blossoms have a smell? Just like regular flowers?”

“Finn!” Kurt dropped his Cheerios bag and wandered to his bed. “Did you buy the whole store?” He reached out to touch the nearest of the products. “And where did you get the money for this?”

“I worked extra at the shop this summer,” Finn reminded.

“You shouldn’t spend your money on me. I know how much Quinn likes it when you buy her things.”

Finn rubbed at the back of his head. “Yeah, but Quinn never did anything like this for me. I don’t think she ever would.”

“Go to bed,” Kurt said kindly. “And thank you for buying out Body Works for me. I’m sure you’ll be their favorite customer from now on.”

There was a cheesy grin on Finn’s face as he retreated from the room, but he said halfway out of Kurt’s space, “You know, you and Rachel aren’t so far apart.”

“Bite your tongue.” Kurt nearly threw a bottle of Peach Passion at Finn’s head.

“Really,” Finn insisted. “When we were talking, so told me that what she did was wrong, but she really wanted me to think about what I wanted. She said I shouldn’t let other people tell me what’s cool and what isn’t. She said I shouldn’t care what other people think, as long as I like it. That’s what you’ve been trying to tell me for a while, years even, I think.”

“And you’ve been telling me otherwise,” Kurt argued back, voice low, “and for good reason. I’m not saying we should fold under peer pressure, but you’ve always had a point. Teenagers are mean Finn, and they’re not typically accepting of anything outside of normal. High school is about surviving. It’s about blending in just enough to get by, until we’re out in the real word, and then we can be whatever we want. Rachel wants to be who she is now, and that’s commendable, but stupid none the less.”

“And if I wanted to join Glee?”

Kurt breathed in sharply. “I just nearly compromised myself, Finn, to keep you out of that club.”

Finn clung to the doorframe. “I didn’t say I was going to! And what does that mean? Compromised?”

Kurt sat heavily on the edge of his bed. “Nothing, forget it, Finn.”

“Do you hate me?”

“Are you joining Glee?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Finn admitted quietly, “since way before Mr. Schue said that stuff was mine. I’ve been thinking about it since Rachel tried to get you to convince me to join. I like to sing, you know. I like it. I just never thought I was very good. Not like you. When you sing, dad kind of looks like he wants to cry. He says you sound like your mom.” Awkwardly, Finn said, “Your mom. Not ours.”

Wordlessly Kurt nodded. He understood.

“You were considerably opposed to Glee club the last time it was mentioned,” Kurt pointed out. “Were you just lying then?”

“Sort of,” Finn said, making a pained face. “I mean, I think it might be cool. Rachel says it’s cool.”

“Rachel probably thinks a box of crayons is cool.”

Finn continued, “But the guys would never be okay with it. They’d make fun of me. And I’m already not the quarterback. Glee would ruin me.”

“But is it what you want?”

The slump to Finn’s broad shoulders was disconcerting, as were the words, “Sometimes I wonder if this is who I’m supposed to be.”

“I don’t care,” Kurt said feverishly, “if you want to join Glee. I don’t care if you’re some secret band geek. All I care is that you do what you want, Finn. All our lives we’ve tried to be the best, and have the best and do the best. We lie to ourselves all the time.” Like he lied to his heart about Sam, and about Dave.

“What if it hurts us?” Finn posed. “We do what we do to stay strong.”

Kurt wrung his hands for a moment, then said, “If Glee is what you want, you should do it. If it isn’t, then don’t. Things have been happening this year, Finn, that haven’t before. Things are changing. We can’t be the same, we have to change, too. And I’m starting to believe that we need to reevaluate what makes us happy, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for that happiness.”

“I .. uh …” Finn stammered. “I haven’t decided on anything yet.”

“Neither have I.” Kurt smiled a bit. “About anything, really.”

“So, goodnight?”

Kurt gave him a wave and began clearing his bed. Things, he decided, in the Hummel house, were never going to be anything less than complicated.

Kurt got away on Saturday to the local coffee shop. Lima wasn’t nearly as big as Columbus, which was the preferred destination as far as Kurt was concerned, and when it came to cool hang out spots, but there was the old abandoned textile factory and the coffee shop. Because the factory was absolutely creepy and the police came around more than a few times a day, Kurt spent most of his free time at the coffee shop.

When he and Blaine managed to find the time for each other, it was their spot. They’d been meeting at the Lima Bean for a little over two years, and per tradition, they always sat at the same table and ordered the same drinks. Blaine usually paid, and Kurt typically had something to vent about. How they worked, Kurt was still trying to figure out.

“You look good,” Blaine observed, sipping at his coffee. “Better than I’ve seen you in a while. What’s going on?”

Kurt smiled into his coffee. Blaine was probably the friend Kurt saw the least frequently, but of them all, he was the most valued. It was their shared sexual orientation that had initially brought them together, but it was their ability to geek out over musical theater that sustained the friendship.

“I think I blackmailed a teacher last week.”

Blaine’s eyebrows nearly rose to his hairline. “That’s new. How’d it go?”

“Surprisingly well. If Sylvester ever found out, I think she’d be proud of me. She’s been trying to blackmail Mr. Schue for years. I managed it in minutes.”

Blaine’s foot nudged his under the table. “I take it you had a good reason?”

A bit defensively, Kurt said, “He tried to blackmail Finn first. There were drugs involved, and all so my brother would join his Glee club.”

“Well, if it was for a good cause.” Blaine’s Dalton jacket was hooked on the back of the chair, and the emblem was still visible to Kurt if he leaned just a bit to the side.

“You’re biased,” Kurt told Blaine. Blaine was part of his own school’s Glee club, but Kurt had never actually heard him sing. He had, however, seen Blaine flanked by a series of red and blue blazers from time to time. Blaine had never said it, but Kurt was very much under the impression that the senior was really very popular at Dalton. It was a nice change from the years previous, before Blaine had transferred schools, when Kurt had worried about his friend’s safety. “The Warblers are like rock stars at Dalton. McKinley’s Glee club is ranked lower than the AV club. That should clue you in.”

Blaine jerked his cup a little towards Kurt and told him, “You have a very exciting school, Kurt. Blackmail, intrigue, deception, all you need is a good murder mystery and you could write a book.”

“How are you real?” Kurt asked. “No, really, do you think I’m a bad person?”

Blaine had a medium drip, like the most predictable of clockwork, and Kurt glanced down at his own mocha. It was one of the few things he still indulged in. Coffee was his vice, and his true weakness.

Blaine said, “I think you did a bad thing for a good reason. That’s something commendable, Kurt.” The normally posh façade Blaine wore so easy disappeared for a moment, and he said, “And completely awesome. I wish I could have been there. You’re brilliant when you’re furious.”

“I think it was all a bit pointless in the end.”

“How so?” Blaine asked. His hair was gelled down, like Kurt could almost always remember it being, but it was the end of the day, and Kurt could see the edges curling up. It had always been an urge of his to run his fingers through Blaine’s hair, free from gel and product. Kurt imagined it would feel amazing.

With a sigh, Kurt explained, “Finn was always the first person to tell me that once you got a taste of popularity, it was crucial to keep a hold on it.”

“But in not as many words?” Blaine asked, good naturedly.

Kurt was forced to crack a smile. “In not as many words,” he agreed. “But the point is, Finn worked really hard for his popularity, and to ensure the groundwork for mine. Blaine, Finn basically took me by the hand and passed me off to Quinn at the start of my freshman year. Together they decided I should join Cheerios, and what activities I could do. And it’s all for the sake of remaining at the top. But now he’s gone and done the exact opposite of that, and I don’t know what to do.”

“What did he do?”

Kurt corrected, “It’s more like what I’m afraid he’s going to do. I went through all that trouble to basically tell Mr. Schue that I was going to report him for sexual advances, and then Finn turns around and says maybe he does want to be in Glee after all.”

Blaine hesitated, took a long drink of coffee, then asked, “Shouldn’t it be his choice?”

“You’d think,” Kurt allowed, “but his friends aren’t going to be okay with it. The school won’t be, either. Finn is falling into a slump. He’s nothing like he used to be, and I’m concerned.”

Blaine reached out, the pads of his fingers trailing down the side of Kurt’s face intimately. “I think you’re more worried about what it means for you, Kurt. He’s always set the pace for you, and determined the path you’ll walk. Now he wants to go out on his own, and you’re getting lost.”

“You’d fit right in at McKinley,” Kurt assured him. “You’re just as dramatic as everyone else at the school.”

Blaine pinched Kurt’s cheek, and harder than he needed to. “I’m just saying, you never completely bought into your brother’s contrite bull about the emphasis of popularity, and maybe he didn’t buy into his own, either. He could just be starting to realize that. I know the Glee club at your school is like poison, but if Finn knows that, and still chooses it, what more can you do, other than be supportive?”

In another life, if things had been different, and if there hadn’t been Dave for Kurt to kiss, there might have been Blaine. Once in a while Kurt could really imagine the two of them together, drinking coffee in the morning, listening to the soundtrack of Breakfast at Tiffany’s before bed, and linking pinkies in the way that Santana and Brittany did. They might have gotten together and stayed together. It would have been nice.

“I don’t want him to get hurt,” Kurt said, then begrudgingly admitted, “I don’t want to get hurt because of him.”

Blaine nodded slowly. “I think you’re getting it now.”

With a huff, Kurt leaned an elbow on the table and remarked, “No one ever tells you it’s going to be this difficult in high school.”

“I think that’s a required secret.” Blaine set his empty cup to the side. “Now, do you want to hear about how I made an absolute fool of myself at the local Gap? It involved singing a song with a line about sex toys to an older man. The Warblers backed me up. It was all very humiliating.”

Kurt said, “Only if you’re willing to listen about how I’ve managed to fall hard for the new kid, regardless of having Dave in my life, and how I kissed him a few days ago, and it was the best kiss I’ve ever had in my life.”

Blaine was on his feet immediately, saying, “I need more coffee for this. And for God sake, Kurt, we have got to start meeting more frequently.”

Blaine was halfway to the barista when Kurt called after him, “Did I mention I’m flying for the Cheerios again?”

Blaine shot him a maddening look, and then came back to the table a few minutes later with a strawberry tart and a sugar cookie. Kurt broke off a small piece of each as Blaine said, “Tell me everything. This is better than when Quinn and Finn had the pregnancy scare.”

Rubbing at his fingers to dislodge the sugar grains, Kurt remarked to him, “You’re most certainly a fourteen year old girl, Blaine.”

“You can paint my toenails later. And my cuticles are looking atrocious.” Blaine swatted at him. “But enough about me. Tell me about this new kid that you’ve fallen in love with. Is he blond? I bet he’s blond.”

“I have not fallen in love with him,” Kurt said, jaw set. “And for the record, I’m convinced his blond tresses are faux.”

Blaine blinked for a moment, then asked slowly, “And you still like him? I thought that was one of your deal breakers.”

Kurt looked down at the piece of cookie he’d taken, and slowly broke it into even smaller pieces. He could feel the weight of Blaine’s disapproval, and said haughtily, “I put up with your product damaged hair, don’t I?”

There was mock outrage on Blaine’s face. “You, sir, have offended me.” He gestured at Kurt’s hair. “And really, with the amount of spray that you’re carrying around, it’s a miracle your lungs haven’t folded in on themselves yet.”

Kurt framed his hair delicately. “You know I only use organic products.”

“So, what’s this new boy’s name?”

“Sam Evans,” Kurt said, and thought of the day previous when their teacher had chosen a particularly boring film to show in class on cell mitosis. Kurt had been falling asleep in his chair when suddenly a piece of paper had been nudged in his direction, a small cartoon hastily sketched in the top corner. Kurt had returned the paper to Sam with dialogue, and it hadn’t been long before there had been another panel for Kurt to add to. Sam had let him keep it and Kurt still had it tucked into a binder fold.

“You said you kissed him?” Blaine asked eagerly.

Kurt nodded. “I was trying to do something really stupid, something that wouldn’t have worked out well in the end anyway. I only meant to give him a peck, but then we were really kissing, and Blaine …”

“Stars?”

“Fireworks,” Kurt corrected. “I swear, I don’t even remember most of it, that’s how ridiculous it was.”

“So then you told Dave to take a hike, and then kissed Sam a whole lot more, right? Please tell me you had sense enough to do that, because I may reach across this table and strangle you if you did anything else.”

Kurt scooted back a bit. “Dave is my boyfriend, Blaine, and just because you’re not his biggest fan, doesn’t mean I feel the same way. I’m still with Dave and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

“But you saw fireworks?” Blaine’s head tilted to the side in confusion. “You saw the fabled fireworks and you didn’t think they meant something? Kurt, they blew up in your face and you ignored them?”

Before Blaine could jump any further down his throat, he was quick to explain all of the reasons why leaving Dave for Sam were a phenomenally bad idea. The reasons made perfect sense to Kurt as he laid them out, but he could tell Blaine was less convinced than Kurt had dared to hope for.

And his thoughts were confirmed when Blaine said simply, “You’re a complete idiot, Kurt Elizabeth Hummel.”

Kurt’s fingers traced the lip of his coffee cup. “You’re free to think that, but honestly, you can keep your judgment to yourself.”

Blaine sobered. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that, Kurt.”

With a deep exhale, Kurt said, “It’s fine. I just want you to understand how much I’m struggling with this. I’ve been with Dave forever. My feelings for him are layered and complex and deep. Dave is everything I should be content and happy with. But like you said, Sam and fireworks go together. I kissed him, Blaine, and I knew.”

“Knew what?” Blaine asked.

“He was the one I wanted to wait for.”

Blaine gave a nervous chuckle. “Are we really about to talk about your virginity here? In the middle of a Lima coffee shop?”

“No we’re not,” Kurt said annoyed. “I didn’t mean sex. I meant that I could wait for Sam when we go our separate ways to college, and when we become adults, and actually have careers and lives. I could wait for him, Blaine, to love me and come back to me, to be ready to be with me. And that’s not the kind of feeling you can just shake off.”

“You sound pretty conflicted.”

Kurt nodded a bit frantically. “I’m … I feel like I’m going to have an ulcer from this. And Sam’s just making it worse by being such a gentleman about it. He hasn’t brought the kiss up once. In fact he’s pretending like all we are is good friends.”

Blaine pointed out, “But all you are is good friends.”

Kurt let out a small whine. “Blaine.”

“Maybe,” Blaine posed, “Finn isn’t the only one who wants to step out of his comfort zone.”

Right away, Kurt said, “This isn’t a comfort zone, Blaine, it’s a danger zone. And it’s the kind of statement I can’t afford to make right now. I’m on track to be student body president next year, and head Cheerio. Dave and I can actually walk down the hallway and no one says anything. McKinley doesn’t have that fancy bully free policy that your school does. It’s because he and I have a carefully crafted image that we’re safe, and one little nick could have everything falling apart. No, Sam isn’t an option.”

“Not even for the guy who makes you feel fireworks? For the one you want to wait for? Come on, Kurt. Guys like that don’t come around all the time. Sometimes you have to reach deep inside of you and take a chance.”

Kurt cleared his throat and cupped his hands around his coffee. “My mind is made up. Things need to stay the way they are.”

Blaine laid his hands over Kurt’s. “You can’t stop change, Kurt, and sometimes it’s a good thing.”

Kurt looked down at their hands, laced together, folded intricately. “Do you remember that day I came and saw you at the hospital? After … after …”

“After Carl and I got the living crap beat out of us?” Blaine supplied. “After Sadie Hawkings.”

Kurt drew his hands back. “Yes. When I came to see you, to make sure you were okay. At the hospital, that night, Blaine, do you remember me sitting with you? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. You were pretty out of it. But you said something to me, and it’s been with me ever since.”

“Stay gold, Ponyboy?”

Kurt grimaced. “It was just after I’d made flier, and I was so excited to tell you. I thought it would cheer you up. I think it just made things worse.”

“You were the one good thing,” Blaine said, voice filled with nothing but conviction, “out of that entire mess. Kurt, aside from my parents, you were the only one who came to see me in the hospital, and you came the very next morning. I was happy to hear about you on the cheer squad. You really helped make me feel better. I was hurt, but I was still happy for you.”

Kurt insisted, “I told you I was at the top. I was popular. I wasn’t going to be persecuted, ostracized or hurt for being exactly who I was. I was so excited, and do you remember what you said to me?”

Blaine shook his head. “Like you said, I was doped up on pain medication. I had a concussion--”

“--you said I should do anything and everything in my power to keep that popularity. You said it was power. You said I was only safe as long as I had that power, and I should never give it up. That I should fight to my last breath for what I had.”

“I had just been beaten up,” Blaine said darkly, “for daring to go to a school function with a boy I liked.”

“It’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Because I’m scared, Blaine. I’m scared that could happen to me. You had to switch schools. You had to leave everything behind. I won’t let that be me, not if I can help it. So what I have now, I’m going to cling to. I’m going to fight for it, and I will give up everything else for it. You can call me a callous bitch if you want to, but it’s fact.” Kurt stood. “I have to go, Blaine. I have Cheerio practice in a little over an hour, and some homework to catch up on.”

Blaine nodded and stood. “You should think about this some more, Kurt. Maybe consult with someone. Your mother?”

Kurt dismissed that right away. “I know what she’d say. She’d say I have to let Finn go his own way, the consequences damned, and that maybe I should take a good look at why being popular is so important to me. It’s not what I want to hear right now.”

“Not her,” Blaine said in a lighter voice.

“Oh.” Kurt’s eyes felt immediately damp, but he knew there were few tears left to cry for a woman he hadn’t seen or heard or touched in over a decade. “I used to go and sit by her grave all the time. It always made me feel better. I don’t know why I stopped going.”

Blaine slid his jacked on. “You never know. It could be a great time to pick that back up.”

“You never know,” Kurt repeated.

______________

April 14, 2008

 

“What the hell is that?”

Kurt looked up from his thermos, over to Dave, and said, “Huh?” The two of them were stretched out on a soft blanket, the grass acting as a cushion under them and the thickest of bushes and trees at the far side of the park provided more than enough privacy for their afternoon picnic. “This?” Kurt gestured down to his thermos in hand.

“Yes, that.” There was a great deal of food spread out around them, most of it half eaten by Dave who Kurt had always known to be a picky eater. “It’s been permanently attached to your face for an hour now. I thought we were supposed to be having lunch together.”

As if to prove a point, Kurt reached out for a bushel of nearby grapes, pulled one off and popped it in his mouth. After chewing he said, “You know I brought most of it for you. This is my lunch. It’s for Cheerios.”

“I’ve seen Quinn carrying a thermos like that around.” Dave sat up, crossing his legs. “All the Cheerios do?”

Kurt nodded. “Sylvester has us on a special meal plan.” Because it sounded better when he said it that way. “The Sue Sylvester Master Cleanse.”

“Sounds fishy.”

Kurt bit back another swallow. “Did I make a big deal about you going on that whey and protein diet over the football season? This is nothing compared to that.”

A bit densely, Dave said, “But that was for football. Had to bulk up.”

“And this,” Kurt responded, jiggling the thermos, “is for Cheerios. Honestly, Dave, as little as you and your fellow brethren would like to admit it, Cheerleading is a very athletically demanding sport. I’m trying to get into the best shape I possibly can.”

Dave’s arm found itself around Kurt’s waist as he pulled the boy back a bit. “You do look like you’ve lost weight. You look good.”

Kurt beamed. “The last of the baby fat, I’m sure. I’ll look even better by the end.”

Dave pressed a warm kiss to the back of Kurt’s neck. “I think you look great now.”

“Sylvester says I have hips like a pear.” Kurt caped the thermos and set it aside, gesturing down to his hips. “I flare out at my bottom.”

“Your bottom is my favorite part,” Dave laughed.

Kurt leaned an elbow back into Dave, satisfied at the whine of pain he gave at the motion. Kurt snapped, “The point is, as Santana would say, I have junk in the trunk. Sylvester weighs us at the end of every week, the fliers, I mean. She rides all the girls hard, but especially those of us who go up in the air. She made it a point to tell me personally that just because I’m male, doesn’t mean she’ll go any easier on me.”

Dave shrugged. “I’ve seen the guys who hold you up. They’re pretty strong.”

Letting his legs stretch out, Kurt leaned back on his hands. “It’s not about the holding up, Dave. I’m sure most of the girls on the team could hold me up. But what I weight now, it probably feels like several hundred pounds after I’ve gone up high enough, and then come crashing back down due to gravity. I don’t particularly care for the idea of being dropped, so this is the alternative.”

Before Kurt could stop him, Dave had the thermos uncapped and was sniffing at the drink. “It smells like death,” he said, holding the canister away. “What’s in this?”

Kurt rattled off, “Water, maple syrup, fruit glucose, lemon, cyan pepper and ipecac.”

Dave’s forehead creased. “That sounds like it’s horrible for you.”

“All the Cheerios drink it,” Kurt said easily enough.

“And what’s ipecac?”

Kurt’s hand settled onto Dave’s thigh and he leaned in, kissing him softly. On a lazy Monday afternoon the park was deserted, and Kurt felt brave. There was a new sense of courage instilled in him since joining the Cheerios, one that made him feel like he could do anything or be anything, and all he needed was control.

“You want to talk about my diet drink,” Kurt asked, “or do you want to make out?”

“Make out,” Dave agreed, pulling Kurt down onto him. “That one for sure.”