The bullies leered, the fetid stench of their hot, over-eager breath driving Kurt further into the corner he had inadvertently allowed himself to be maneuvered against. There would be no getting out of it this time. Finn, Puck, Matt and Mike were all at baseball practice, and nobody else was likely to care if he got beaten to a bloody pulp outside the gym where Cheerios practice had just finished.

He trembled at the unholy enjoyment filling their eyes as the two behemoths flexed their fists and grinned at his obvious fear, feeding off the emotion that he was unable to hide.

Kurt had been harassed by people like these since grade-school. There was always somebody ready to pick on his small stature, his too-high voice, his geek/loser status, or more recently, his sexuality. He had been slammed into walls and lockers, half-drowned by a river of frozen corn-syrupy drinks, and lost his dignity more times than he cared to recall to dumpsters, wedgies, pee-balloons and pantsings. (Though, oddly enough the latter had stopped with his official coming-out. Apparently there was some advantage to stupid jocks thinking they might catch gay cooties from touching him.) But this was different. Azimio and Karofsky had been forced to back down last time and now they were after blood. His blood.

Cracking his ridiculously large knuckles, Azimio laughed. "Any last words, Hummel?"

Flaying strips off guys like these with his quick wits and razor-sharp tongue had always been Kurt's best defense, but right now the sheer terror screaming through his brain had effectively removed any chance of a clever comeback.

"Just get it over with, you cowards" he grated, clenching his teeth in the hope that none of them would be knocked out by the pulverizing to come.

Karofsky sneered. "Well, since you ask so nice."

The jock's fist reared back and Kurt squeezed his eyes shut, flinching in anticipation of the pain that was about to be inflicted, but the expected blow never came. Instead a wild howl that reminded Kurt of that old warrior-princess show his dad had liked when he was little suddenly filled his ears.

Opening his eyes, Kurt could only stare in awe and admiration as Santana Lopez appeared and proceeded to go mediaeval on the two hulking athletes. Eyes were gouged, guts were elbowed, Azimio bellowed as his nose gave with a distinct crunch when Santana grabbed it between her knuckles and wrenched, and then Karofsky hit a high note that even Kurt would have been hard-pressed to match when the best back-handspringer on the Cheerios brought him to his knees with a well-aimed kick.

"Lay a hand on my boy again and I'll really give you something to cry about," she snarled, patting her still immaculate ponytail into place as she turned a contemptuous back on the blubbering bullies and linked her elbow with Kurt's. "Come on, loser. I'll buy you a Slushie."

Too stunned to say a word, the wide-eyed countertenor simply obeyed, escorting her back inside the school building.

In the end it was he who purchased two of the grape-flavored beverages, following Santana to the empty choral practice room to drink them. They sat down on plastic chairs and stared at each other in silence. Santana demurely crossed her long legs and sipped at her drink, as unruffled as if she single handedly beat up a pair of bullies every day before breakfast.

Kurt took a deep gulp of his Slushie, trying to compose his thoughts, and jumped when Santana told him, "Careful, Hummel. You'll give yourself a brain-freeze."

The acerbic comment finally loosened his tongue. "I can't believe you just did that! How? Why?"

She shrugged. "Mr. Schuester and Miss Sylvester might not have anything else in common, but they both teach that you never let your teammates down, and I happen to agree with them." Taking another small sip, she set her cup down on the floor and laced her fingers over her knee, looking him straight in the eye. "I also believe that when you do somebody a favor, you get to ask for one in return."

Kurt also put his drink down, copying her pose and straightening his spine. He should have known that this was going to cost him. She was right, though. He owed her, big time, and he would pay up, no matter what she asked. "Let's hear it."

"I want you."

Certain that he must have heard wrong, Kurt blinked. "What?"

"You macking on Brittany upped her rep big-time," she said calmly. "She told me all about it, so I know you were just trying to impress your dad or something weird like that, but now everyone in school is saying that Brittany must be the hottest girl around because even the gay kid couldn't keep his hands off her. All I want is an equal or better shot."

Kurt was tempted to throw the ice-cold Slushie in his face just to find out for sure whether or not he was awake. First the warrior-chick had come to his rescue and now she wanted to get into his pants. He felt like he had been accidentally sucked inside some straight guy's wet-dream. "What do you mean, better?"

Santana smiled and somehow the expression frightened him even more than the bullies had. "All you did with Brit was make out, right? Kissing? A little friendly groping?"

He nodded mutely, meekly, fearing that he knew what she was about to request and embarrassingly sure that he would not be up to it. No pun intended.

"I want a date," she stated flatly.

For a moment, he could not process the statement. Then relief and confusion swept over him with equal strength. "You want to go on a date," he repeated. "With me."

"Very fancy and very public," she negotiated. "You'll ask me out in front of the entire glee club tomorrow, which should spread the news everywhere else by lunch-time, then tomorrow night you'll pick me up at my house and let my parents interrogate you before taking me out on the most expensive, elegant, cliché-perfect date you can think of. When it's over, you'll kiss me goodnight. And it better be a real kiss, not just some prissy little peck on the cheek."

She glared as she issued that final order and Kurt gulped, more intimidated by the Santana stink-eye than he would ever admit to anyone.

"That's it?" he asked slowly. "Just a date and a goodnight kiss?"

Pondering the question for a moment, she nodded. "Yes. Do it and I'll consider us even. By Monday, all the jocks will be reconsidering the urge to pound you and the entire school will be convinced that I'm even more irresistible than Brittany."

It made a strange kind of sense, he had to admit. Cautiously relieved, he tested the parameters. "And I don't have to make out with you, right?"

She smirked. "Most people will assume you did anyway. But no, Hummel, I'm a realist. I know I don't have what it takes to be your type."

What she said was absolutely true, but Kurt wondered why he still felt insulted anyway.

"Just one condition."

One elegant black eyebrow lifted in question.

Holding out his right hand, he said, "Call me Kurt."

Santana's small warm hand gripped it firmly. "Deal."