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A high school all-star football game is, perhaps, one of the most ill-conceived ideas Kurt has ever heard of. As if most of the jocks didn't already think highly enough of themselves. As if the schools didn't already make it clear that athletics were more important than academics (because Kurt has yet to hear of an all-star valedictorian poetry-and-math slam), or that brute force is more important than character.

“I still don’t understand why they’re having a football game in March,” Kurt mutters to Finn and Blaine as they get out of the car. Kurt tightens his grey pashmina scarf against the brisk breeze. “I mean, the season ended a couple months ago, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Blaine says, sidling up shoulder to shoulder with Kurt as they walk toward the stadium. “But this is an exhibition game. It’s just to show off the players from the area who got football scholarships. So it doesn’t have to be played in the season. It’s like the New Directions singing at a school assembly versus singing at regionals. Except that all the players are from different schools, so maybe that’s not the best comparison.”

Kurt agreed to go to the game because it was a good excuse to show off his new scarf. Also, Dave will be playing, and they haven’t seen him for more than a week because of Cooper’s visit. It will be nice to see him again.

Finn and Blaine insisted on showing up early, so they get good seats just a few bleachers up from the 50-yard line. They're on the cusp of spring, which means it's still freezing (okay, technically a little above freezing), so Kurt distributes the hand and sock warmers to Finn on his left and Blaine on his right and starts spreading out the first of the blankets across their laps. Blaine smiles sheepishly as Kurt tucks the edge of the blanket under his knee, and it makes Kurt want to suggest that they go find a place to, ahem, warm themselves up a little. Instead, Kurt slips his hands under the blanket as if he's going to fold them in his lap, and Blaine echoes his movement, and as surreptitiously as he can, Kurt inches his gloved hand toward Blaine's until they are clasping in the private safety that the blanket affords them.

Frankly, that Finn wanted to go surprised Kurt – he's been bitter about football ever since he wasn't recruited – but Shane Tinsley was in the game, and even though Finn doesn't particularly like him, he said he should show support for his teammates. (Which didn't make sense to Kurt, since football season is over and they're not technically teammates anymore. But hey, if Finn's got a bigger heart than Kurt does – well, good for him. Maybe Kurt could learn from that.)

As soon as the players run out, Kurt realizes that he has no idea who anyone on the field is – he can't even single out Shane from all the preternaturally huge players on the field. Not until the players are lined up for the kick-off does Blaine lean in and point to number 23 on the blue-shirted team and whisper, "That's Dave."

"Thanks." Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand. "Wait. How do you know?"

Blaine raises his eyebrows at Kurt, leans in and whispers directly into his ear, hot damp breath that makes Kurt shiver, "Because I would know his ass anywhere."

And then Kurt is laughing through his nose, doubled over with his face in his lap to bury the world's most embarrassing, braying guffaw.

"Hey!" says Finn. "I want in on the joke. Or – wait. Do I?"

"No," says Blaine nonchalantly. "You really don't."

Kurt breathes into the blanket, gripping Blaine's hand both as a tether and in revenge, and by the time he's recovered and sitting back up, the game has already started.

Kurt leans his shoulder into Blaine's and whispers, "I thought all football players’ asses looked the same."

Blaine shakes his head. "Oh, no. They come in an infinite variety of wondrous forms."

Kurt wishes he could kiss Blaine right now, and he can tell Blaine is thinking the same thing, too, the way Blaine's eyes hover on his lips. It's a look that's a lot like contact – Kurt's lips tingle as thoroughly as if they'd been touched. He sighs and squeezes Blaine's hand.

Blaine responds with a conspiratorial look before loosening his hand from Kurt's, and Kurt can see that Blaine's hands are fumbling under the blanket although he's not exactly sure why until he feels movement under the cuff of his coat sleeve and – oh – the shock of bare fingers against his wrist. Blaine peels back Kurt's glove – a tortuously, deliciously slow undressing – and wraps their naked hands together under the blanket. The lazy rub of Blaine's thumb against the knuckles of Kurt's fingers feels like the most erotic thing since – well, ever.

"Also," says Blaine, "Dave always plays right guard, and he said he was going to be on the blue team, so that was a clue, too, in addition to his fine, fine ass."

Kurt wants to slap Blaine on his fine, fine ass, but instead settles for pinching Blaine's thigh with his free hand.

Kurt decides that this – the teasing and the flirting and the naked handholding – will probably be the longest foreplay they've had since they first undressed each other. He'll watch the game while Blaine strokes his skin, and he'll occasionally let his mind wander to them stroking other places, and then after the game they'll drive to one of their houses and tear each others' clothes off and fuck like the world is about to end.

Right now, though, Kurt will try to follow the game.

Dave's job, Kurt knows, is to keep the other team away from the guy with the ball, and he's surprised how effortless he makes it look as he clears the way. His body, which Kurt has always thought of as a bit luggish and clunky – first in an off-putting way, then in an endearing one – becomes a thing of grace. When he blocks other players, it's not with the brute force that Kurt expects; it's with the agility of a dancer. Kurt suddenly sees a certain beauty in this game that he never saw when he was actually on the team.

Also, Blaine's right. His ass really does look nice in those pants.

Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand.

Kurt doesn't spend all of the time watching Dave, but he spends a lot of it that way, in between ignoring Finn's incoherent shouts and listening to Blaine's patient explanation of strategy. Blaine's voice is whisper-quiet, reassuring, and he might as well be talking dirty for the way Kurt's heart quivers.

It would all be awesome and perfect if the entire McKinley hockey team weren't seated on the bleachers in front of them. They've got earmuffs on instead of hats, right down to the last team member, presumably to show off the glory of their Samsonesque mullets, and they spend most of the game heckling members of both teams with Check 'im!, Into the boards! and Your mom wears double-runners! and other exclamations that even Kurt can tell make no sense at a football game.

"Seriously, are they complete idiots?" Kurt asks. "How was I only 17 points ahead of one of their ilk in the election? It's humiliating."

"Shouldn't they be at one of their own games, anyway? I thought hockey season never ends," Blaine says.

"You didn't hear?" says Finn. "The entire team got suspended from play for two games for checking a referee."

Blaine's jaw drops. "They didn't."

"They did," says Finn.

"Checking is that body slam thing, right?" says Kurt.

"Yeah," Blaine says, smiling at Kurt like he just fell down from heaven.

Kurt has to look away so his brother doesn't turn into the third wheel on an eye-fucking date. "So they all body-slammed the referee?" he says to Finn.

"That's what I heard."

"And they only got suspended for two games?" Disbelief drips from Blaine's voice.

"Yup," says Finn.

"It's McKinley. What do you expect?" Kurt says.

"Hey, Karofsky!" The shout below them interrupts their conversation. It's Rick Nelson, Kurt's presidential loser-in-arms, and he's leaning over the front of the stands. The players are in formation about 10 yards down the field, and Dave either can't hear or is pretending not to. "Why'd you leave hockey for this pansy sport? Anything you want to tell us?"

"Jesus fucking – " Kurt hears the words exit his mouth, but has no recollection of how they got there.

"Hey," says one of the hockey players, turning around. His wavy brown hair makes him look exactly like Richard Marx circa 1989 (which Kurt only knows because "Right Here Waiting" was one of his parents' songs and he sings it to himself sometimes when he's sad about Blaine staying in Ohio next year). "Did you just take the Lord's name in vain?"

Kurt can feel Finn and Blaine tense up on either side of him. "Well," he says, "he's not my lord, so the answer to that question is, 'No.'"

"Oh," says Richard Marx, looking a little confused, then smiling. "Huh. Okay, then," and he turns back around.

Rick Nelson has sunk back into the bleachers by now, apparently having lost his steam, and is just mumbling to the mullet next to him – Scott something-or-other, if Kurt's remembering right. Which is good, because if he kept going, Kurt knows he wouldn't be able to keep his own mouth shut, and he doubts that Dave wants him coming to his defense.

But Rick is back at it by the end of the game. The blue defense is on for the final play, but blue has pretty much already demolished white – Kurt decides proprietarily it's thanks to Dave more than anybody else – and the audience members (spectators, Kurt reminds himself) seem bored by the foregone conclusion. Especially the hockey players.

"Karofsky!" the guy-probably-named-Scott yells, and the volume with which he does is totally unnecessary because Dave is at the team station at the edge of the field, just 10 feet in front of the bleachers.

Dave looks up, his helmet off, and Kurt's pretty sure that's trepidation that he sees flashing across Dave's face. But it's just a moment, and then it's gone, replaced by the steel "fuck you" mask that Dave wears so well. "Yeah?"

"You played really well today."

Dave nods his head. "Thanks."

"For a faggot."

Kurt shoots up out of his seat, trembling and swaying, his blood pounding hard against his skull. He feels a hand on each wrist, holding him back, but they can't hold back the words that start forming in his mind, can't keep him from planning all the ways he can tear the guy-probably-named-Scott apart, leave him in a dusty pile like paper that's been through the shredder.

But Kurt's planning turns out to be completely unnecessary.

"You say that like it's something to be ashamed of." Dave’s words are so loud that they bounce off the stadium walls. "If there's anything to be ashamed of around here, it's your mullet. I mean, you chose that."

There's a cackle from Scott (yes, it's definitely Scott, just like the toilet paper), followed by a guffaw from Rick. "You're not denying it. Faggot."

Dave is flexing the fist he used to call the Fury. "Because I gave up lying for 2012, you little shit."

The entire hockey team inhales sharply at once. The blue offense has started to notice, too, bodies slowly turning toward the escalation, but none stepping toward it. There's an invisible moat between Dave and the rest of the team, and Kurt's pretty sure none of them are going to try to cross it.

"Oh my god!" Scott tosses his head, the long hair in back waving like a taunt, and points – fucking points – at Dave. "You're queer! You really are queer. I should have known it, Liberace!"

The deep breath that Dave takes must be visible from a mile away. The high padding on his shoulders heaves with it. His teeth are clenched, but the words come out perfectly clear. "I prefer the term cocksucker myself."

A loud ooooooooooooh runs through the hockey team, except for Scott and Rick, who just stare at Dave, slack-jawed. "So, is that what you like to do with your Prom Queen Kurt Hummel?" Scott says, and Kurt's not the only one standing now. He's flanked by Blaine and Finn, who tighten their grip on his wrists – but they're no longer holding him back. It's more like they're hoping he'll keep them grounded. Both are folding their free hands into fists, and Blaine is mumbling under his breath, like a mantra, self-defense, defense of self and family, self-defense, defense of self and family.

And somehow, Dave has suddenly catapulted himself over the wall and has the front of Scott's coat in his fists and is pulling him up off his feet. Rick jumps up like he's going to intervene, but Dave glares at him and he sits back down.

Dave's face is tight with an anger that used to frighten Kurt, but now makes him feel intensely safe. "Don't bring Kurt Hummel into this. I'm not good enough for him and you're not good enough to say his name, you insignificant little prick."

Dave drops Scott back onto the bleacher bench with a thunk, then turns to the stairs and walks upward in the stands – just walks, not marches or storms – nodding at Finn and Kurt and Blaine but not quite looking at them when he passes, the whole hockey team and all of the blue offense and pretty much everyone within eye- and earshot of the argument staring at him in various states of wonder, even though the game is still going and –

           "Where the hell are the teachers?" says Blaine.

           "What just happened?" says Finn.

           "Fuck," says Kurt.

– all at once.

"Queer faggot!" Rick yells weakly in one last, desperate attempt to gain the high ground for himself and Scott, who's sitting on the bleacher, immobile with shock.

Dave turns around and spits, “That’s Queerofsy to you! Don't forget it." He spins back around, gliding up the stands, and there is something different about the way he holds himself, his shoulders looser, his head tilted up, and then he's at the exit and he's gone.

Rick's eyes fall on Kurt then and – oh, here it comes.

But he just says, "Oh, hey, Hummel. Didn't see you there. Nothing personal. We have to be assholes to anyone who leaves the hockey team. We're like the mafia. It's nothing personal."

Kurt can already feel his heart beating faster, the adrenaline bathing his brain. All those glorious, surgical-strike insults that he's been assembling are right on the tip of his tongue, ready to fly.

Except what Dave said to Scott keeps running through his brain – you're not good enough to say his name – and what comes out instead is, "You're not even worth it, Rick. You're just not worth it."


They stay for the rest of the game – all two minutes of it – but if anyone asked them what had gone on in those two minutes, none of them would have been able to answer.

Finn's face is the most readable – any passerby can look into his eyes and see the gears turning in his brain – and as the gears turn he mutters questions that Kurt and Blaine treat as rhetorical, like "What the – ?" and "Wait, is Karofsky gay? Is that why you guys are friends now?"

"We should find him," Blaine says quietly to Kurt.

"No, I don't – yeah. Maybe." Kurt stares vacantly at the field as the blue team rushes together, high-fiving and hugging and ass-slapping because, of course, they must have just won. He rubs his hand against his chest like he's trying to hold his heart in. "You're probably right."

Blaine pulls out his phone and starts texting, but who knows if Dave even has his phone, or if he ever went back to the locker room. No, he probably did; football uniforms aren't that comfortable and you wouldn't exactly want to hitchhike home in one. But that doesn't mean he'll answer.

When they walk out of the stadium, Blaine's phone hasn't buzzed yet, and Finn is still muttering about whether Karofsky is gay, and Kurt feels like something inside of him is cracking.

"Finn, can you go see if Dave is in the locker room?" Kurt says.



"Yeah, right." Finn starts to move, then hesitates. "And then what?"

"If he's not there, maybe the parking lot?" Blaine shrugs. "You know what his car looks like, right?"

Finn nods. "Yeah, yeah. But I mean, what should I say?"

Kurt grabs Blaine's hand. "Tell him that the gay welcoming committee is here whenever he needs it."

* * *

Kurt collapses on a bench and Blaine sinks down next to him.

"Well, I guess he came out," Blaine sighs.

"My brain isn't even working." Kurt rubs his forehead along the brim of his hat. "I don't – I don't understand why he did that. He didn't have to do that."

"Maybe he wanted to." Blaine loosens Kurt's scarf and slips his hand under the collar of his coat to work at the knots in the back of his neck. Passersby be damned.

"I guess – I guess I never had much of a choice. It's hard for me to understand. Having to make that decision."

"He certainly has a way with words, though. Your influence must be rubbing off on him."

"Queerofsky." Kurt starts to laugh – just a gasp, at first. It's like the flap of a butterfly wing. Which, Blaine has read, can cause a hurricane under the right conditions.

Apparently, the conditions are right in Kurt, because the gasp turns into a snicker turns into a chortle turns into a bellow turns into an out-and-out roar and then he's hyperventilating, pressing his face into Blaine's shoulder, manic tears drenching his coat.

Blaine holds onto him, tries to contain the storm as best he can, keep it from tearing Kurt apart. But it's twisting into his own body, too, making him weak with fury. It's so wrong. It's all so wrong. Nothing is ever supposed to be like this. Nothing should ever hurt this badly. Why would Scott and Rick – why would anyone – purposely cause so much pain over something as decent as love?

It makes no sense. It makes no sense at all. And yet they do, again and again, miraculously wringing pain out of something that is pure beauty.

"I couldn't find him,” Finn's voice is above them, and Blaine looks up. “But I asked around and Brittany said Santana gave him a ride home. I guess she wanted to be the gay welcoming committee." Finn furrows his eyebrows. "Is everything okay?"

Kurt lifts his face from Blaine's shoulder and squeaks out, "I'll be fine, Finn. Just – gay stuff."

"Oh." Finn is squatting now, looking up at his brother with abject concern, and Blaine feels a sudden, intense affection for him. "Do you want me to leave you alone?"

"Yeah," Kurt sniffles. "Nothing personal."

"Nah, I know." Finn rubs his hand over Kurt's knee. "I'll get a ride with Puck or something – go to the shop, maybe. Hell, maybe I'll even go the library. You and Blaine go home."

So they do. They go to the empty house and cocoon in Kurt's room. Kurt falls asleep wrapped in Blaine and Blaine breathes him in for a long time before pulling his phone out of his pocket and texting Dave again, to no avail. He drops the phone onto the bedside table and curls into Kurt, and when they wake up they are both hard and hungry (no, Kurt is famished) and it's almost violent, the way Kurt takes him – almost, but not quite. It's on the sublime edge between assertiveness and dominance. Everything is rough and fast and before Blaine knows it they’re soaked with lube and Kurt is groaning and settling onto Blaine’s cock, his whole body quaking. Blaine needs this as much as Kurt right now -- the force and the ferocity, the alchemical change of anger and helplessness into rapturous lust.

"I need you, Blaine," Kurt cries as he rocks all the way down, his transcendent, perfect tightness almost more than Blaine can bear. "I need you so much. I need your cock, I need – " Small, desperate, aching thrusts. "Everything." The thrusts turn into sweet bucking and Kurt leans forward, biting into Blaine's shoulder to stifle his own cries.

"You can have it," says Blaine, holding his hips still and letting himself be fucked, letting Kurt take whatever he wants because he deserves all of it, and damn the world that won't give it to him.

Kurt is flushed and panting, merciless in the pleasure he gives, ethereal and solid, more real and harder to grasp than anything Blaine has ever known. He wraps his hands in Blaine's hair, murmurs into Blaine's mouth, "I don't want to be alone like that, ever again."

Blaine sees Dave on the sideline, looking up at Scott, face twisted with rage and despair, the closest teammate ten feet away. He sees Kurt seated at that round table in Dalton on the first day they met, eyes pale with hopelessness and hand gripping his coffee like it was his only friend in the world. "No, you won't be. I promise," Blaine whispers, grabbing Kurt's face and pulling him back to his lips.

Kurt rocks and rocks, takes and takes, gives and gives until Blaine's not sure he can handle any more, his nerves peeled back and raw and screaming for relief. Kurt drags his nose along the edge of Blaine's ear, breathes hot and heavy into his skull. "Blaine – Never leave me, Blaine." Kurt rolls his hips again in a slow, long, torturous wringing.

"I won't, I couldn't, oh, Kurt – " Blaine buries his face into Kurt's neck, breathes in the scent of grief and longing.

"We can't ever let him be alone like that again."

"We won't. We won't. Ever."

Kurt thrusts, slides, thrusts. "Come, Blaine."

"Kurt – "

"I'm already there." Kurt's spine arches, his head jerks back – sweet, violent ecstasy – and they both are there, floating in that space where there is no pain or fear.

* * *

The shower is hot on his face. It's the closest thing Dave could think of to burying himself. Which he had the urge to do not because he wanted to disappear or die, but because his body is aching for pressure – a force to hold him in, keep his insides from unraveling.

In fact, dying is the last thing he wants to do right now. For the first time in a long time, he feels like he's actually living. His whole body is telling him that, buzzing and acute with awareness. The bruises from the game are slowly blooming on his body like the Lenten roses in the backyard.

It's hard not to run to Kurt and Blaine. But just for a few hours, he wants to continue feeling the unencumbered warmth inside his chest and know that it's not coming from being near them.

He needs to hold onto this feeling and the knowledge that it came from inside of him – that it's all his own.

He'll have to come down from this too soon as it is. He'll have to tell his parents – hopefully before they hear it from some random dickweed who was at the game. And he's going to have to plan for alternatives to punching anyone who gives him shit at school on Monday. Maybe he'll sit down and write down all those comebacks that Kurt used to use against him. That would help.

But for now, he stands in the shower, rubbing soap into his skin until, suddenly, he's overcome by the perfection of his own body. He's never really thought about it before, how it serves him so well – the strength of his arms and thighs and skull, the efficiency of his heart and lungs and liver, the brows and lashes that keep sweat from dripping into his eyes, the hands that create and carry, the senses that connect him to the world.

Dave Karofsky is as he was meant to be. And fuck anyone who tries to tell him different.

* * *

Blaine is in the shower when his phone and Kurt’s buzz simultaneously.  It's the same message.

Dave: I'm okay.

Kurt: Blaine's indisposed. I'm glad you're okay.

Kurt: Are you really?

Dave: Yeah. I need to take a shower. I kind of left without one.

Dave: I drove around for a while.

Dave: But yeah, I'm okay.

Kurt: Can we see you?

Dave: I think I kind of need to be alone.

Kurt: Need to be, or are used to being?

Dave: Maybe both? I need to figure out what to say to my parents when they get home.

Kurt: They weren't at the game?

Dave: No, my mom – nevermind, long story. But I'm glad now they weren't.

Kurt: Are you sure? About being alone?

Dave: Yeah.

Kurt: Promise to let me know if you change your mind.

Dave: I promise.

Kurt: Dave?

Dave: Yeah?

Kurt: I'm proud of you.

Dave: Thanks.

Kurt: I have been for a while.

* * *

There is a look of defeat in his mother's eyes, and Dave sees his dad cry for the first time since his uncle died. "I'm so sorry, David. I'm so sorry I didn't see it sooner."

Dave has been dreading this moment, played out a thousand scenarios of what might happen, all of them equally plausible in his mind: therapy, military school, brusque dismissal and – he's only allowed himself to imagine this once – reluctant acceptance.

It's nothing his parents have ever explicitly said. It's just everything they haven't said. When gay stuff comes on the news, they don't react – they don't react to much of anything in the news, really, except for the weather report and, in his mother's case, car crashes and homicides. Even in January, when the newscasts wouldn't shut up about the mayor's support of gay marriage, his parents were mute on the subject. The closest thing to commentary from his dad was, "Again? I just want to know if it's going to snow tomorrow."

But his mother goes to this awful megachurch full of placid white suburbanites who nod eagerly at every stupid thing their pastors say, and she hated the couple guy-friends he’s brought home who didn’t have super-short hair, and she’s always nagging him to ask out the blonde cheerleader daughters of her megachurch friends. He thought she’d be happy when he dated Santana, but she wasn’t: “Now I’ve never had a problem with you being friends with Azimio,” she said, “but dating is different. But I really think it’s hard for a man and woman to be compatible across those kinds of cultural lines.”

And when Dave got expelled for harassing Kurt, his mom's only comment was about Dave damaging his prospects for the future.

His dad was only a little better. "That's not how you deal with someone you have a problem with. You accept them or ignore them, but you don't attack them, Dave. I thought I'd taught you at least that much."

Ever since, he's been wondering whether his dad will opt for "accept" or "ignore" when he finds out Dave is gay.

"I failed you, Dave," his father says. His mother won't look at either of them. She's staring at the silk flowers on the coffee table. They're starting to gather dust.

Dave wants to get up now, walk out the door and never come back, never have to hear the next words that will come out of his parents' mouths. But he stays. They listened to him – they gave him at least that. It's his turn to listen now.

So he sits there across from his parents on the couch, watches his mother cling to his father's hand. She never reaches out to Dave that way.

His dad looks at him fixedly. "Is that what this was all about with the Hummel kid? Did he reject you or something?"

"No, not –" He's only told his parents the truth so far tonight. He might as well keep doing it. "I don't think so. I mean, it's not like I ever asked him out or anything, but I mean it was pretty obvious he didn't like me. Which was pretty much all my fault. I mean, I never did anything very likeable around him. It goes without saying that he would have rejected me if I'd –"

He definitely doesn't count the locker room kiss as a romantic overture toward Kurt, but it occurs to him that Kurt didn't reject him then. No, he didn't fling himself into Dave's arms (and thank god because that would have been incredibly sick and disturbing), but he didn't tell him he was a horrible, evil, hopeless person who should just get it over with and kill himself.

Dave probably would have, too.

No, even then, Kurt saw a person underneath all the sickness and tried, with Blaine's help, to help Dave see that person.

They were so earnest in that stairwell, and so brave.

It was Dave who rejected them.

Dave shuffles his feet, rubs at his arm, shifts in his chair. He looks his father in the eyes. "I mean, I don't really understand why I did it. I guess I was afraid of him and jealous of him. I mean, just by him existing and being out and brave and …" He almost says beautiful. He almost says perfect. He bites his tongue. "He reminded me of it all the time. Of me being gay, I mean. And a coward."

His dad sighs, leans back into the couch like he's lost all the will to hold himself up. "Why didn't you just tell us? I've been racking my brain forever trying to figure out what's going on with you. We thought maybe it was drugs, but your mom kept looking through your room when you were at school and she couldn't find anything. And you've been going out so much lately. At first I thought, 'Great, he's making friends at his new school,' but then we'd ask you to bring your friends home and you never do and I'd wonder if you were getting into trouble again, who these friends could be that you didn't want us to meet. Is it – do you have a boyfriend?"

Dave laughs. "No, it's not like that. It's – I have gay friends, now."

"People your own age?" Dave tenses up at that question because he really, really doesn't want his dad to know about Scandals. But it's probably a good sign that his dad seems more concerned right now about the ages of the people hangs out with than the fact that he's a big flaming queer.

So Dave answers truthfully, if only partially. "I was hanging out with older guys at first," he starts, and his mom's eyes go wide, and Dave feels his heart rate go up by what must be twenty beats a second.

"No, not like that, I swear," he says. "I just needed to be around other gay people because I hated myself so much and I really needed to meet people who were gay and didn't hate themselves. And there really aren't a lot of teenagers in this town who are out, and I'd kind of burned my bridges with Kurt. But then I met this other kid and – well, he actually turned out to be kind of an idiot – but after that I ran into –"

He pauses. He'd been about to tell his parents about Kurt and Blaine, but fuck is that complicated. He thinks about the difference between not lying and complete honesty, and opts for the former.

"I ran into some other kids – really great kids, good students and pretty straitlaced. I'm sorry I've been hiding it from you. I'm sorry I've been hiding everything, really, for so long. It was wrong of me."

Dave's mom finally pipes up. "Well, I wouldn't go that far."

Dave's heart pounds in his chest, his legs, his skull. It takes everything in him to stay seated, although all he wants to do is flip the coffee table over, run the entire distance to the Short North in Columbus, or collapse into tears. Any of those would do.

But instead he breathes, stares at his parents' clasped hands, notices his father shift uncomfortably on the couch.

Dave's dad speaks first. "What do you mean by that?" It's patient, curious, doesn't judge. His father has always been the consummate peacemaker. Or he's always tried.

"Just – it's not wrong to hide," she says. "The world works a certain way. Sometimes you have to hide things or give up things or change things so you can fit in."

Dave thinks his heart might literally be breaking. Or maybe it's just being torn in two, judging from the searing pain that runs down the center of his chest.

He reminds himself to breathe.

"It's not always okay to hide, Mom," Dave says. "I hurt people so that no one would find out who I am. Really hurt people. Hurt one of the most amazing people I've ever met, and if I'm a saint for the rest of my life, it will never make up for what I did to him. And I hurt you and dad, pushed you away and made you worry about me, and I was – "

He was about to say an asshole, but he wasn't raised to speak that way. His foul mouth didn't develop until he abandoned Scouts for hockey to prove himself a man.

He sighs. "I was awful to most of the kids at school, even if I wasn't beating them all up."

His dad leans forward toward Dave. It reassures Dave and it scares him, because he doesn't know if he wants anyone to be close to him right now when he's so painfully vulnerable. "Son, I wish I would have known."

"I don't know how you could have. I couldn't even admit it to myself. For a long time, anyway. And then I just didn't know what you would think." The tears push against Dave's eyes so hard that his eyeballs ache, but he blinks them back. "You've always told me that a real man treats his wife and children with respect, but I'm not even gonna have a wife, and I don't know if I'm gonna have kids, and if I do they might not even look like me and –"

His dad reaches across and touches him on the knee – briefly, as if he's read Dave's fear of getting close and his need for reassurance and is trying to find the perfect gesture to address them both. "Dave, I need to be honest with you. I don't know what I think. I just always assumed you were straight. I just – I know it's not true, but I grew up believing that gay guys were all like that kid Kurt. Nothing wrong with him, but you can spot it from a million miles away. So I'm a little in shock. But I swear, if I had known – I wouldn't have put it that way."

In the standoff between Dave's tears and the eyelids trying to hold them back, his tears finally win out.

* * *

Kurt and Blaine have returned to the world by the time Blaine's phone buzzes. They're in the kitchen, wrapping some large salmon fillets with lemon slices and asparagus spears in parchment paper.

Blaine quickly rinses his hands before picking up his phone.

Dave: I talked to my parents. I think we’re okay.

Blaine: Like, a little okay or a lot okay?

Dave: Not kicked out or anything. No military school. No ex-gay camp.
Dave: Nothing like that.

Blaine: Is that good?

Dave: Yes. Is Kurt there?

Blaine: Yeah.

Dave: Tell him.

Blaine: Um, he's kind of standing over my shoulder flailing.

Dave: Hi Kurt.

Blaine: Hi, Dave! (This is Kurt.)
Blaine: Wait, should we get on the phone? (I'm still Kurt.)

Dave: No.

Blaine: No?
Blaine: This is Kurt. Are you really okay?

Dave: Yes.

Blaine: This is Blaine again. Where are you?

Dave: My room.

Blaine: Are you grounded? Are you not allowed to make calls? I'm going to call you.

Dave: No and no and don't because I won't answer. Can't talk.

Blaine: ??

Dave: You're going to make me say it, aren't you?

Blaine: ??

Dave: I've been crying for a half hour and I think it's over and then I start up again and if I talk to you guys I'll start up again.
Dave: And I have hiccups. There are you happy?

Blaine: Only if they're happy tears.

Dave: I think so. It went a lot better than I thought.
Dave: Dad was good. I could have told him a long time ago.

Blaine: I'm glad. Your mom?

Dave: Good enough. But I ignore her as much as I can already anyway.

Blaine: I really want to see you. We both want to see you. Now?

Dave: Um, still crying. Also, I think I should talk to my dad some more when I calm down.

Blaine: OK. But you'll still be here tomorrow like usual?
Blaine: Please?
Blaine: I want to give you a hug.
Blaine: But I won't if you don't want me to.
Blaine: And Kurt will be here. He says "Screw work."

Dave: He's usually more eloquent than that.

Blaine: That's exactly what he said. He gets a little less articulate sometimes when he's happy.

Blaine: Also, "eloquent" is quite the $10 word.

Dave: I've picked up a few from Kurt.

Blaine: So you're coming over on Monday. Right?

Dave: Yes.

Blaine: Thank you.

Dave: Thank you? You're the one having me over. Also, it's kind of our routine.

Blaine: Kurt's worried about you running away.

Dave: What? From my parents?

Blaine: Well, maybe. I meant holing up and being a loner, though. Don't tell him I said that, BTW. He doesn't like people to know he worries about them.
Blaine: God, I'm a terrible boyfriend. I shouldn't have said anything.
Blaine: No, I'll tell him I told you and bear his wrath.
Blaine: I mean, it's obvious he would worry about you. He cares about you.
Blaine: Because you guys are friends and all.
Blaine: Are you still there?

Dave: Yes.

Dave: Thank you. And thank Kurt, too.

Blaine: For what? Me babbling incoherently and Kurt being generally awesome?

Dave: For everything. For being there. For making me less scared.

Blaine: I love you, Dave. We both do.

Dave: I love you, too.