It was just after six o'clock on Friday evening and Kurt Hummel was dragging. He had risen from bed an hour early today in order to get to school in time for a special glee-club practice. All of New Directions had been singing and dancing their hearts out as they fine tuned their routine for the upcoming Regionals competition, and it was pleasing to realize that all of their hard work was really starting to pay off. He was actually beginning to believe that they might have a chance at beating Vocal Adrenaline this year!
Unfortunately, the day had gone straight down hill from there. He had crashed and burned on a pop quiz in math class, discovered that he had forgotten his English assignment at home, mangled a lesson in conjugating Spanish verbs so badly that Mr. Shuester had kept him after class to offer a sympathetic pep-talk that made Kurt want to crawl under a rock and die of embarrassment, then he was late to his next class because Shue's lecture had gone on so long, which resulted in detention.
And that didn't even take into account the usual delights of being slammed against his locker two separate times and chucked into a dumpster after 3rd period study-hall.
Just to finish off his day in grand style, Miss Sylvester had recently decided that with Nationals coming up for the Cheerios soon, it wasn't enough for Kurt to just stride through their ranks and belt out a song or two. No, now he had to flip, twirl, spin and lift one of the girls over his head while he was singing.
After two solid hours of this unaccustomed exertion, Kurt's arms felt like overcooked spaghetti, his shoulders were so stiff he could barely manage a disdainful shrug, his legs were trembling with fatigue and his back was cramping up so badly that he wanted to cry. And he hadn't even been able to soothe his aches with a hot shower because he had seen Karofsky and his buddies heading to the locker room following Track & Field practice.
Kurt had just not felt up to dealing with any more harassment from the Cro-Magnon set.
Fortunately, he had thrown his sports-bag on the gymnasium bleachers today instead of putting it in a locker, so all he'd had to do was grab his things and leave, but it seemed obvious, in retrospect, that Fate would rescind that tiny bit of good luck by choosing today to gift him with a flat tire before he was even halfway home. Being his father's son, Kurt had all the necessary tools and experience needed to efficiently change a flat, but he was so tired that the chore had taken twice as long it normally would have, especially with cold spring rain pelting down upon him the entire time.
Now his clothing was soaked, he had grease stains on his warm-ups and his perfect manicure had been ruined when he'd lost his grip on the jack and managed to tear one of his fingernails down to the quick, which pissed him off both aesthetically and because it seriously hurt.
Kurt had never been so glad to see the welcoming lights of home.
Shutting off the engine, he grabbed his duffel and dragged his abused body up the front steps, hoping that Carole might be fixing dinner. He was starving and she was a really good cook. His dad tended to favor unhealthy take-out food and Finn could burn water, so Carole and Kurt had taken to splitting the culinary chores between them.
As he walked through the front door, Kurt took a hopeful sniff, disappointed to detect no cooking odors whatsoever. "I'm home!" he called out, frowning a little when he received no response. That was odd. Carole was usually home from work by four and Dad liked to close the garage promptly at 5pm. "Hello?"
A thumping sound caught his ears. Finn was ascending the staircase that led from their shared room. "Hey," he greeted casually around a mouthful of potato chips, offering the bag to Kurt.
Hungry enough to risk potential complexion damage from the greasy snack, Kurt took a few. "Are we the only ones here?"
"Yeah. Mom and your dad left a few minutes ago. The big date, remember?"
Their parents periodically went out on a special date night. Keeping the romance alive, as his father quaintly put it. "Right, I forgot that was tonight. I don't suppose there's anything for dinner. I'm starving to death."
"Your dad left us some pizza money. Figured I'd wait until you got here, so you could have a say in the toppings."
Kurt nodded. Ever since the debacle over how their room should be decorated when the Hudsons had first moved in, both he and Finn had been almost absurdly courteous about asking each other's opinion on anything they would be sharing. "No mushrooms or bell peppers. Anything else is fine."
"Cool," he said, whipping out his cell phone as he prepared to speed dial their favorite pizza place. Then Finn paused mid-keystroke, brow wrinkling as he took in his roommate's appearance. "Don't take this the wrong way, Kurt, but you look like crap."
"I do believe in looking appropriate to all occasions," he replied dryly, walking further into the living room and sinking into a tired but careful perch on the arm of the sofa. "It's been a crappy kind of day."
Stepping closer, Finn frowned as he took in the bruising around Kurt's left eye. "Did somebody punch you? Was it Karofsky? Damn it, I told him if he laid another hand on you-"
"Easy, killer," Kurt interrupted, holding up a hand to stop Finn from poking a finger against his sore cheekbone. He couldn't help smiling a little over his friend's protective instinct. "Unless you're planning to beat up Brittany, you might as well save your anger. Besides, I'm pretty sure she could take you."
Finn's eyes widened. "Brittany. Wait . . . our Brittany? From glee club? Why would she punch you?"
"She didn't. I was trying to lift her overhead at Cheerios practice and my arm gave out. She accidentally kicked me in the face."
Seeing that Finn was interested, Kurt proceeded to describe his day, feeling a little better just for the chance to vent.
"Man, that sucks," Finn finally said, wrapping up the entire experience in three well chosen words.
Kurt rolled his eyes at the prosaic summation. "Needless to say . . . TGIF."
"Totally," Finn agreed. "Tell you what. You go down and grab a shower. I'll order the pizza and find us a movie and we can just veg out and forget today ever happened."
"That sounds like the best idea you've ever had," Kurt said, then he grimaced as his entire body gave a giant twinge of protest over his attempt to straighten up from his slouch. "Um, I don't suppose you could give me a push in the right direction."
The taller boy laughed, setting his chips down on the coffee table as he levered the stiff and sore cheerleader to his feet. "There's some muscle ointment in the medicine cabinet if you need it."
"Thanks," he grunted, making his way to the basement door and trudging slowly down the steps. He felt thankful, not for the first time, that his father had had the second of the house's two full baths built into the basement when the place was renovated. Burt and Kurt had each needed to have their own space, and now that each of them was sharing their half with another person, it made life much easier.
Peeling his damp and filthy clothing into a waiting laundry hamper, Kurt gathered fresh attire and a few essential skin care products and headed for the bathroom. The sight of himself in the mirror made him groan aloud. A long streak of grease decorated his jaw, his hair was stiff with sweat and sticking up in odd places, and a lovely collection of purpling bruises decorated his torso to go along with the one discoloring his face. Just a few souvenirs of his day.
No wonder Finn had been looking at him so strangely.
With a sigh, Kurt turned on the hot water. Normally, he favored a warm shower. Too much heat dried out the skin and negated the effectiveness of certain hair-care products, but this time he did not care. Turning the temperature up as high as he could stand, he stepped inside and let the soothing spray beat against his sore muscles and wash the day away.
Finn munched a slice of pizza and watched ESPN on the 55" plasma TV, absently wondering what was taking Kurt so long. He had heard the shower shutting off almost twenty minutes ago and when he had yelled down that the pizza was here, Kurt had replied that he'd be right up. Surely ten minutes was plenty of time to put a few layers of beauty goop on his face. And even if it normally wasn't, Kurt had been the one wanting dinner, so he should have put a move on, right?
Gulping down the last of his pizza, Finn took a swallow of diet-coke and went to investigate. He went down just a few steps and peered under the edge of the landing. Kurt was sitting on his bed, back facing Finn as he struggled to apply some of the ointment to his shoulder. It was obvious that he was having a difficult time reaching and Finn winced in sympathy. After playing sports most of his life, he knew all too well that intense feeling of being so worn out you could barely move. For Kurt, who had never been a jock and whose only prior claim to high school athletics had been his short tenure as the Titans kicker, it had to be an all-new kind of torture.
"Need a hand?" he asked, coming down the rest of the stairs.
Kurt jumped like he'd been electrocuted, leaping up from the bed and spinning around so fast it made him gasp in pain. "Finn," he said nervously. "I . . . didn't hear you come in."
"When you didn't come up for pizza, I thought you might've fallen asleep down here."
Finn frowned, noticing that Kurt's arms had crossed defensively around his waist and bare chest. His always rosy cheeks were practically glowing with embarrassment and it suddenly occurred to Finn that he had never, even after weeks living in the same house, seen his roommate without a shirt on. How weird was it that after his own admission of feeling uncomfortable getting undressed in front of the gay boy, he had failed to notice that Kurt never changed clothes in front of him?
Pretending ignorance, he gestured to the jar of ointment. "That stuff's hard to apply when you're sore enough to really need it. You want some help?"
Kurt hesitated, then held out the container. "Yes, please. That is, if you're sure you wouldn't mind."
"Why should I?"
He shrugged minutely. "I don't know. It's just . . . well; I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable."
Genuinely puzzled, Finn pressed, "With what?"
The rosy blush deepened. "I know you don't really like it when I touch you, so . . ."
Finn shifted, understanding the implication. Even before the stupid moist-towlette incident a few weeks ago, he had tended to go rigid whenever Kurt placed a hand on his arm or shoulder. As part of keeping the harmony in their new living arrangement, he now realized that the other boy had gone out of the way to respect his personal space. And he had certainly never invaded Kurt's.
Internally, Finn flinched, recognizing that he had probably hurt his sensitive friend without even knowing it. He had seen how Kurt was with other people, walking arm in arm with Mercedes and the other girls, giving Artie's shoulder a supportive tap when he seemed down, hugging his Dad and sometimes brushing Finn's mom's arm with his hand when they talked. He was a toucher, one of those people who found comfort in contact. And if he were honest with himself, Finn had to admit that he was the same way. With anybody else.
A deep sigh gusted from his lungs. "I'll be glad to help you. Let me go get something."
Running upstairs, Finn grabbed the overstuffed couch pillow that Kurt claimed for his own and that Finn knew had once belonged to Kurt's mother, and the partially empty box of pizza. He returned to the basement bedroom to find Kurt pulling on the blue shirt that matched the pajama pants he currently wore.
Grabbing the straight-backed chair that went with his study-desk, he turned it to face the bed and balanced the pillow against its back. The pizza box, he set on Kurt's bedside table. Picking up the jar of ointment, he chided, "I can't put this stuff on through your clothes, you know."
Looking a little confused, Kurt slowly straddled the chair and removed his shirt again. Hugging the beloved pillow to his chest, he waited.
Finn smiled when the tense boy automatically settled a little at the touch of the comforting object. His dad's chair had the same soothing effect on him, and he'd been counting on that when he had grabbed Kurt's favorite pillow.
Settling himself on the bed behind Kurt, Finn scooped some of the ointment onto his fingertips. He wasn't sure what Coach Tanaka put in it, all he'd ever say was that it was his mother's secret recipe, but the stuff had a fresh, pleasant scent and did a hell of a job soothing achy muscles. All the McKinley jocks swore by it.
The second his hand touched Kurt's skin, Finn felt him stiffen. "Sorry, stuff's a little cold I guess. It'll warm up in a minute."
"No problem," Kurt said lightly. "You just . . . surprised me."
Sensing a double meaning in his words, Finn spread the ointment evenly over the knobby protrusions of the other boy's spine. Then he set aside the jar and put the strength of both hands into massaging the cream deeply into his muscles.
Kurt groaned a little and pressed his face into the pillow but after a couple of minutes it was clear that he was starting to relax.
Finn worked the heels of his hands into the lower back. He knew from experience that this would hurt some now, but save a lot of pain in the future. "Let me know if this is too much."
Shaking his head, Kurt heaved a contented sigh.
Taking that as a sign to keep going, Finn helped himself to more ointment and rubbed it vigorously into the pale, narrow shoulders. He could feel tension seeping out of them as he worked.
"Please don't take this the wrong way," Kurt's muffled voice advised, "but right at this moment, I really love you."
Finn laughed. "Shut up and have some pizza."
Kurt lifted his head, looked at the box, and made a face. "It's cold."
"Are you sure you're a teenager?" Finn teased him. Giving Kurt's shoulders a light squeeze, he let him go and stood up. "There. That should at least allow you to get some sleep tonight."
Pulling his pajama shirt back on, Kurt turned in his chair and offered Finn a genuine smile. "Thanks, Finn. I really appreciate what you did."
Suspecting that, once again, Kurt was referring to more than just the literal, Finn nodded. "No problem. You coming up?"
He nodded as he rose gracefully from the chair and picked up the pizza box. "The microwave is calling."
"You still want to watch a movie?"
"No Stallone, or Schwarzenegger, or anyone else whose biceps are bigger than his brain."
Finn countered, "Fine. No chick-flicks."
Kurt smiled. "You really should give 'Hello Dolly' a try some time. It's a great comedy. Walter Matthau's character reminds me of my dad sometimes."
"How come?" Finn asked, knowing he was being lured into watching the musical extravaganza but not really minding for once.
"Before I introduced him to your mom, my Aunt Mildred was always trying to set Dad up with one of her extremely eligible friends. Watching him worm his way out of meeting any of them was pretty hilarious."
Feeling that he owed Kurt a favor for failing to notice how hard he had been trying to make their shared home-life compatible, Finn said, "I like Matthau okay. Maybe it wouldn't kill me to watch it just one time."
Suddenly beaming with enthusiasm, Kurt grabbed his mother's pillow and led the way upstairs.
Following him, Finn grinned. A little simple attention, plus the promise of pizza and Streisand, had made Kurt all but forget about his crappy school day, and Finn was happy to have been the one to make that happen.
After all, it was the least a guy could do . . . for a brother.