Kurt Hummel, Kurt/Finn, background Rachel/Quinn
not mine, making no profit
beta by boomwizard, pg-13, ~3500
Ten years and counting trying not to be friends with Rachel Berry.

This is the last time he sees her before he leaves Ohio:

She's the second person not his father in the hospital after The Incident, comes to him in purple plaid wheeling a truly brutal looking case behind her Mary Janes. "I heard," she announces like he can't figure this out by himself, and locks the hospital door behind her. "I came to see how you were handling it."

Kurt keeps an eye out for the wooden block and sledgehammer despite the fact his leg's already in a cast, tries and fails to get away anyway while she's preoccupied laying out tools that she probably doesn't even know how to use. "Mercedes is coming by," he finally sputters as he tries to lever himself out of the bed, but she swats at the air and drags him back, pets and strokes his hair until he makes her stop.

"I saw her leaving," she promises, and bends his fingers open, starts digging at his cuticles.

"That's not how you do that."

"I'm a gay child, Kurt, I know what I'm doing," she informs him as she jabs and digs around the nail and pretends she has any idea what she's doing, and he considers it proof that homosexuality is obviously not a fully genetic trait. "When I was five, we woke up to find out somebody had spray-painted 'faggot' and 'cocksucker' all over our van but it's okay, we covered it all up with my finger paints and drove to school later in the Berry Sunshine and Rainbow Mobile." Her hair flips off her shoulder as she smiles at him, crazed in her nearly-nineteen years of wisdom. "We're too special for them, Kurt." She jabs and scrapes too roughly but he doesn't feel it anymore, words easing what pain medication for bruises and broken bones couldn't. "That's why they tell us we're not."

Sometimes he forgets that Rachel Berry is not just a mouth and a nose too big for her face.

She has a pet mouse when she shows up three years later, a little white mouse that she talks to like Cinderella while he runs in his little wheel and completely ignores her like ninety-nine percent of the world's sane population.

He already knows the full story but he listens to her version anyway.

She explains that Quinn's got her own life under control (she left) and that the Berry's are no longer needed (her newly-widowed mother took her back) and that she calls Quinn's daughter every so often (not enough to judge by the way she keeps checking her bright pink little phone like the little girl is going to call her up to bring over the adoption papers herself) and that she's glad to finally have her life back after five years playing mommy through high school and two years of community college (because she insisted that she could push off the university so that she could help raise the kid and Quinn could go to university first).

It is quickly apparent that she talks to the mouse like it's going to talk back to her (or start singing at the wheel of the boat-thing-whatever, Disney's always traumatized him with their mother murdering) and that she goes through the toy aisle every time she goes through a store and that she has the same pipes she always did now strengthened by years of lullabies and singing lessons with a young child.

Twenty-one years old, in so much worse shape than she had ever been when greeting years of high school cruelty with indomitable excitement, she is the most pathetic thing Kurt has ever seen.

He tells Mercedes, "I can't kick her out, you know what soul-crushing guilt does to my pores" the next time she contacts him from her tour bus and works hard not to attack Rachel with the exfoliating scrub.

After Rachel's arrival, he is finally removed from the top of every dancer's 'most hated' list.

Kurt's made it a habit to keep watch over every other aspect of the show since he arrived (even those they refuse to let him be involved in) and the dance rehearsals are no different. With Rachel's arrival, he is no longer the only one lurking in the side corner of the empty auditorium with a salad and herbal tea watching for the slightest quiver of an ankle or tilt of a spine not previously planned.

Rachel's sanity somehow lasts for nine months (it probably means something) before she blows.

The words "look like the hippo from Fantasia" and "you lift her, you ignoramus, you do not fling her about like a barbell" might be slung across the stage along with stories involving the words "when I was a girl, I was grateful for those extra five hours of practice and bleeding arches!" and a spontaneous show of how a "real talent uses her body" that involves so much movement Kurt's reminded of a rabid squirrel of some kind.

Ten minutes in, they're beginning to look to him in hopes of finding some kind of savior.

"No," he informs them flatly, "she's right, you all…" He gestures vaguely as he eyes Rachel's forgotten drink. "Look like Special Olympics rejects on speed—" Rachel makes a fuzzy noise at the front of the stage, gestures excitedly in a 'yeah, that's it!' way. "And I would hope that we expect better on Broadway."

Rachel smiles at him like he's just given her the gold and returns to her work, more excited and driven than he's seen her in nine months.

Kurt steals her non-fat mocha latte for himself and herds them back onto the stage when they try to escape.

Finn shows up at a show every six months from the very beginning, something that becomes a habit so quickly it should be frightening but somehow isn't even years after it starts.

Kurt doesn't warn Rachel about it, jealously guards his small weakness until he's forced to share it.

The first time Finn comes after Rachel slides onto the stage the way she should have three years before, she gets a bouquet of white roses and sniffling promises to share lunch that make Kurt sneak away feeling oddly guilty because he's still won even if's lost. Later Kurt gets to enjoy the usual furtive looks at every backstage hand that wanders by without even glancing at them before Finn finally squirms and scrapes his shoe across the floor and shoves a bouquet almost as big as Kurt is into his arms. "Thought you might like them, I think it's tradition," he announces right on cue.

Kurt nearly drops them, unprepared for the weight, but greed inspires him, allows him to spit out a stray petal and arch his neck to look over the offering. There are honestly too many flowers, a bizarre mix and match of lilies and orchids and roses mingling awkwardly together, reds and blues and yellows. It's ridiculous, there's no sense of elegance, and he grips them more tightly, breathes them in and straightens his spine. "This is—" not enough, "—really too much."

"Yeah," Finn agrees and looks pathetic because he still cannot get his tie right.

"The new one's named Lydia, right?"

"Mom loves her."

Kurt hugs his flowers more tightly, stubbornly pretends he can smell the stupid bowling alley-karaoke bar that Finn's fiancé (she's gone farther than the last one his mother set him up with) hates him sneaking off to and the jalapeño nachos Finn eats too many off and the assortment of baked goods that Finn pretends he can't bake because it's too girly. "I'd love to meet her one of these days, bet she's great."

Instantly: "Worse than the last one." A beat. "I mean." Another beat. "Never mind."

Guilt is god awful for his pores. Sympathy pain is even worse. "You should go."

"Okay," is returned too quickly, and later Kurt stubbornly ignores the figure who always buys the front row middle seat but never stays until the final curtain call because he makes himself sneak out early.

"You need to let it go," Rachel takes to telling him before every visit that comes right on schedule and he glares at her, mutters that he knows this and that it's none of her business anyway so go away, midget, and don't forget to deep condition your hair before bed or you're going to look like a scarecrow, don't glare at me, just go.

Because the truth is that he always keeps the flowers in the vase that gets smaller with each delivery until they barely look like flowers anymore, until they're a heap of browned petals and brittle leaves, and then replaces the last batch in the trunk under his bed with the newest dead bouquet and waits for the next.

Rachel pretends she doesn't know.

Kurt loves her too dearly and might stop making fun of her conversations with the mouse.

Then the mouse bites it.

Rachel heads back for her regularly scheduled visit to see her fathers and like always, he's left to feed the stupid mouse (what is his name anyway?) while she's gone and then make faces behind her back when she comes back and immediately shares every second of her visit home with the rodent that won't stop running in his squeaking little wheel. A constant squeak-squeak-squeak, the way Rachel probably sounds during sex (ew).

Then he wakes up and spends a good minute or so staring at his ceiling trying to understand what's missing before he rushes to check the cage. And there, there lies Mr. Whatever-his-name-is-Kurt-doesn't-care in the little wheel, already stiff and looking like he suffered a massive cardiac episode mid-run.

Kurt stares for a while in wide-eyed horror, calls Mercedes in hysterics and then calls Rachel only to chicken out at the last second because she sounds so… not miserable and she's so bi-polar now after losing the kid and this, this is why you don't fall in love with a closet case, it won't end well even if they show up all the time to stare at you hopelessly from the audience and even if you both know how things would be if they weren't like this and now he's talking to himself out loud and hyperventilating.

Because what is she going to do if she finds out about the mouse? Bring out the rocks and go to the river?

He tells himself his pores will never forgive him and spends the next ten hours running around for a damn white mouse that he can pass off as the dead one and finally finds one, apparently the only little white mouse this side of the Mason-Dixon line, and tosses the original in the trash. Sputters at the stupid thing for another five hours before it runs a few seconds on the wheel and then starts eyeballing him threateningly.

Rachel returns two days later (days he spends trying to teach the stupid thing to run on the stupid wheel, damn it, just his luck he got a fat slob). She flashes him a too-bright little grin and heads straight for her room to unpack and share her odyssey with the mouse she's used to replace the tear in her heart.

The too-loud excited conversation continues for less than five seconds before there's sudden silence in the other room, and he closes his eyes, hunches down miserably on the couch. Hunches more as seconds become minutes and then stretch on longer. He's half off the couch, unable to take it anymore, when Rachel pops her head out of her room to beam at him, hair up in its post-trip loop on the top of her head like always.

"Thanks for taking care of him," she announces and her eyes are wet, her mouth trembling— but she keeps beaming, reaching up to swipe her face when a stray tear escapes. "Thanks, it means a lot."

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" She gives a short little laugh, a noise that reminds him of watching Finn slip out every time before he can see the end. "You took great care of him, I… You didn't have to do it, it means a lot."

"I'm sorry," but there's only silence before her smile falters, wavers and returns.

"It means a lot," she repeats, and disappears into the bedroom again to lick her wounds in private.

The next time she wants to stay up all night talking about her visit with the replacement mouse she doesn't love but still clings to, he stays in the room and listens to her because the mouse doesn't.

The truth is that glee club had made the others braver.

Oh, he and Rachel had both been starved for it, and Mercedes had bloomed, but the others, they had needed it, had only been able to weaken some of those walls created for self-preservation because others around them had been doing the same thing. They had created a bizarre senseless little family for themselves between their attempts to destroy each other, and that strength had provided the three of them with the last push they needed to go on by themselves.

While a few of the others are thriving almost as well as them in their own ways, the rest had been unable to survive after they had lost the simple raw courage that could only be achieved through show tunes.

Rachel doesn't say I told you so, thank god, so he doesn't have to beat her with death with her CD collection (not that he'd hurt her collection since it's actually pretty fabulous) or push her out of the window, just comments that she feels terrible about the divorce and she's sure Finn will be coming back to New York as soon as he clears things up with his mother and then they'll all go bowling together.

He could say she'll give up on ever being what her mother wants, bring the adoption papers herself with the frame of the white picket fence and then you'll become the biggest cliché lesbian couple of all time and you'll do it so well Ellen and Portia will be green with jealousy and it would mean just as much.

Kurt hides the shirt he stole from the weekend that ended too quickly (brings it out when Rachel's visiting her dads and breathes it in) and Rachel still goes through the toy aisle every time they go through a store.

When Finn finally comes by a few months later for his usual front-row-middle-seat show, new girlfriend that his mother loves too much waiting back in Ohio because he always comes alone, Kurt takes the mass of flowers offered greedily (later stores them in the trunk with the shirt he refuses to let go of).

Rachel blessedly shuts her mouth except to demand one of the makeovers that always scare her to distract him.

Finn still doesn't know how to do his tie.

Kurt glares at the stupid tie even though he's becoming more and more frantic because Rachel doesn't bring out the sheath dresses unless she's willing to whore herself out for something and she doesn't bring out butter yellow as a base wardrobe color these days unless she's emotionally suicidal. She'd curled her hair, too, and put on the diamond studs, and set off into the crowds looking too frantically eager to leave Kurt with any ability to relax until it's over. Fifteen minutes later Mrs. Pillsbury informs him that The Other One has gone running off and Tina promises that Rachel had been running in the opposite direction and, oh god, Finn had brought Wife #2 to the reunion.

"She's great."

"Yeah." Where is she? She's so short she could be hiding under one of the tables getting trashed… "She's great, we've had ten years of freedom, great, wonderful…" He takes a breath, lets it out. "Her hair looks like a poodle, you know that, don't you? You better know that."

"Yeah, I know." A beat. "Not that I would know."

"Of course you wouldn't," Kurt assures because this he can give him, and takes off again around the corner while pretending that Finn isn't trailing after him like a lost puppy that can't even accept he's lost.

"Kurt, I love my mom."

"I know." These moments are easier on stage. "I know," he promises, and looks for a flash of yellow, of brown hair that needs deep conditioning weekly instead of monthly. "I know…"

"I mean it."

Oh, god, that tie.

It's too much to look at any longer, makes Kurt snap before he can stop himself. He jerks around in the middle of the hallway and grabs the stupid thing, undoes it and starts redoing it. "Make sure you get a wife that can take care of you next time, Finn, please, your tendency to speak before thinking and inability to accessorize aside, you're too extraordinary to be neglected like this."

"That'll be pretty soon." A quick puff of a breath against his cheek that he can't force himself to hate as he checks the knot, smoothes the tie down compulsively but then can't let go. "But you do it best."

"Of course." He can't let go of the stupid tie. "Ring," he adds, flexing the fingers of his left hand into the fabric, gripping it too tightly. "I need a ring to do it, although you can give me one of those now." Fat lot of good it does him. "And you smell like nachos…" Weakness, twisting the tie in his fist and stepping closer, breathing Finn in like he isn't an adult, like people don't line up in the cold to see him. "Nachos didn't use to make me cry…"

"I'm sorry," is all that's offered, weak but sincere.

"Yeah." He forces his grip to loosen, forces himself to take a few steps away from Finn towards the girls' bathrooms and smile pretty. "You should go make sure the stage is ready. Mercedes is going to have to bulldoze through the groupies and she'll want to get started as soon as she gets here." Finn stares at him, nearing his second divorce and entirely too miserable looking, but his tie looks great now and at least that's something. "I'm going to get my ingénue, we'll be there in a few."


"Go," he orders, and Finn scuttles dejectedly back around the corner.


A moment is spent staring after him before Kurt snorts to himself and slides into the girls' bathroom, pushing open the last stall on the end to stare down at Rachel Berry. I told you so is the last thing he wants to hear himself so he grabs her arm, pulls her up and draws her toward the sinks. "You continue to be the most pathetic thing I've ever seen," he mutters and can't meet her eyes in the mirror.

"She said—"

"I know what she said."

He'd left this godforsaken town ten years ago, left Finn behind to be with his mother and done exactly what he set out to do which is more than what most people can ever say. Those same people give him standing ovations now, want him to guest-star on strange sitcoms and situational comedies and Disney wants him to voice something with talking starfish but they refuse to tell him if there's going to be any character death so he's wavering.

Kurt is fully capable of taking care of himself, now more than ever.

But he's also spent seven years with this woman as his closest confidant (and friend, god, fine, his closest friend) and is well aware that nobody else knows every single one of the steps as well as he does. Knows that he can only handle the paparazzi as well as he does because she had given him lessons for years because she'd already been convinced that he'd be the only one to reach Broadway with her. When she steals one of his scenes, it's only so he can steal it back, and he does the same thing to (for) her. It's why so many want them to do the damn duet record, why ticket sales go up every single time they share the stage.

So Kurt gives her a moment and tries to fix her face, her hair, as she calms.

"Defying Gravity duet… Mercedes does her… thing, whatever… Somebody to Love, everybody always loved that one, have to give the audience what it wants," she mutters too determinedly, and he slaps her linebacker shoulders, hovers fingers over dark hair before deciding that he's done all he can. "Do we have to do Don't Stop Believing?"

"That's what the school voted on."

"Now they want us."

"We always told them so."

"That's right." He takes her hand, takes his own comfort in the way she grips back just as strongly, momentary fragility pushed aside as she braces herself to go on a stage they outgrew years before.

"We'll get a standing ovation."

"Always," he agrees, and they lead each other out to the stage.