Title: Break Through
Word Count: ~ 4700
Warnings: Language, kinda/sorta slash. ANGST ANGST ANGST.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.
Distribution: My LJ and . All others please ask.
Summary: When Will encourages Kurt to sing his heart out, everyone is surprised by the results. Kurt/Surprise!
A/N: This one turned out more angsty than I had intended, but Kurt is just written for angst, n'est ce pas? ;)
Will was pleased with how this week's assignments were unfolding, and he took some small measure of pride in how well the kids were performing. He knew they had been reticent when he had explained that the week was about expectations, self-imposed or otherwise, and shattering them. They were all good singers, he said, but confessed he had made the process too easy on them, shoehorning them into choral roles, but that was now over. He knew they could sing well as a group, but he had been negligent by not focusing on their individual talents as well. He had been too distracted by the whole, ignoring the parts which comprised it. Thus, he had canceled rehearsals for Regionals, as he knew they were more than prepared; instead, they were each responsible for preparing a solo which would best showcase their voice.
He had been surprised when he was met with considerable resistance, except, of course, from Rachel. His saving grace had been Kurt, whom he conscripted into service immediately following the announcement. He had watched them all carefully during these past months and knew that Kurt had an amazing ear, an instinctive understanding of each member of the group and the types of songs which would best highlight their abilities, as well as how to arrange them. Will felt that perhaps he had been remiss in not encouraging Kurt to do more with the group. Rachel's musicality was perhaps equal to that of Kurt, but she was more focused on her own performance. He knew Rachel loved the club and wanted them to do well, but in a fundamental way, she saw them as an extension of herself; she could admit that Kurt, Finn, and Mercedes were talented, but she didn't see the others as equals. Kurt very much did, and he wanted them to do well not only for the sake of the group, but for themselves; his love of music and the power it engendered within the artist surpassed his love of performance.
Will had asked Kurt to work with those who were willing, to which Kurt had reluctantly agreed. He knew that Kurt had fought tooth and nail for the selections, disregarding the suggestions the others had originally considered. For example, Quinn had argued for a simpler piece, believing her voice just wasn't strong enough for what Kurt had proposed; he had disagreed, stating that her voice was beautiful, and no one neither wanted nor expected her to be Rachel. Mercedes had demanded to sing something black, annoyed by the plethora of show tunes and standards typical of the group; Kurt had countered with the assertion that her voice was not defined by her skin color and that soulfulness was not limited to African Americans, winning the argument by proclaiming that Mercedes herself didn't subscribe to stereotypes, so why did she insist on making herself one?
Later, Will could say with certainty that the best performances were those given under Kurt's direction: Quinn had delivered a hauntingly lovely rendition of Joan Osborne's One of Us, underscored with her newfound realization that popularity was a yardstick which, in the end, measured nothing of import, that everyone was beautiful in their own unique way and should be celebrated for it. Mercedes had blown them all away with Kurt's reimagining of Danny Boy, reducing Tina, Artie, Finn, and Brittany to tears. Santana had stunned the entire room with an emotionally powerful balladic version of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. Everyone had been shocked when Puck humbly asked Kurt for assistance, as well as at Kurt's acceptance of the request, but the former's performance of God Bless the Child was absolutely remarkable to behold.
The others were terrific, and Rachel was unsurprisingly fabulous, but none of their performances accomplished what Kurt had managed to mine from the others. Overall, Will was happy with the results, and heartened by the new alliances which were forming within the group. Quinn, Mercedes, Santana, and Puck had all praised Kurt's mastery of music, but especially his willingness to collaborate with them on songs they normally would not have undertaken and helping them to make the songs their own. He had made them shine, and they were grateful; he had unknowingly reinforced their commitment to Glee Club, and they now felt as if they truly belonged in their own right, that they were more than glorified backup singers for Rachel and Finn.
As the week progressed, Quinn, Santana, and Puck had flocked to sit around Kurt, who was always with Mercedes; Brittany usually joined them, whether in a show of unity or caprice. Will often arrived before meetings to find the six of them rehearsing on their own for Regionals, and was pleased to hear that their harmonies were even tighter, their choreography even more in sync. For their part, they mostly ignored Will's presence, seeking out Kurt for advice or commendation. Kurt was often flustered by the attention, but offered solid constructive criticism when prompted, and lavish but truthful praise when it was warranted. Kurt was finally coming in to his own, which was why Will was so nervous about their final practice.
He had maneuvered the performances specifically so that Kurt would go last. He was sure that Kurt had selected his piece early, and most likely had been practicing it religiously throughout the week. Now, he was going to force the boy to lay aside all of his preparation and throw caution to the wind. If Will knew anything about Kurt, it was how much the boy disliked surprises. He had counted on the fact that his plan would not be well-received, but he had no idea just how resistant the boy would be, nor the resentment and anger his words would incite.
"But I don't understand," Kurt said, not for the first time. His upset was obvious, and he was beginning to vibrate with barely-concealed fury.
This was exactly what Will wanted. The mask was falling away, the façade Kurt had so carefully crafted to present to the world to safeguard his feelings was beginning to waver. He wanted Kurt to peel away the veneer of nonchalance and false arrogance, to expose himself fully as the amazing artist he knew the boy could be, but in order to do that, Kurt would have to be forced.
"Kurt," Will said gently, "you're a gifted singer, one of the best we have and, frankly, one of the best I've ever come across. It's important for you to understand that I recognize this."
"Okay," Kurt said blankly.
Will sighed, knowing his words were falling on deaf ears. "The problem is that you're overly concerned with the technicality of the music, with being perfect."
"Isn't that the point?"
"No," Will said, slowly shaking his head, incredulous that the boy actually believed this, given what he had accomplished with the others. "Kurt, you can hit all the notes; that's not the issue."
"So what is the issue?"
"The issue is that you hold back, all the time. You have a tremendous gift, Kurt, but you and I both know there's far more to you than what you've been giving me, and I want it all."
Kurt frowned and rubbed his arms. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do," Will argued. "I've heard your practices," he added, slightly blushing over his admission that he had all but been spying on the boy. "So let's cut the crap and get to the point, okay? You're singing far below your potential. That was patently obvious during your performance of Defying Gravity." He nodded when Kurt scowled and dropped his head. "I don't know why you threw the song to Rachel," he continued, "and I'm not going to pry, but you're good, Kurt. Damn good. And a lot better than I think even you realize. Your range is far beyond what you've been doing in the group practices. At least three octaves, and possibly four."
He held up a hand to stave off the objection he knew was coming. "I admit that this is the nature of Glee Club. We sing according to parts, and you're most comfortable singing soprano, but we both know you're capable of more than that. You're classically trained, and you're doing that training a disservice by not utilizing your gift to the best of your ability."
Kurt shrugged. "So I'll sing some parts in tenor instead of soprano."
Will grimaced and rubbed a hand over his face. "Please do me the courtesy of believing me in possession of a brain," he snapped. "You can do more, Kurt. So why aren't you? And I'm not just talking about range, here. You've pigeonholed yourself into this role of soprano Broadway wannabe." He raised a brow. "Am I really supposed to believe you can't sing opera or jazz or blues? That you don't listen to and love other types of music? That your only interest in popular music is the divas who sing the songs, rather than what the songs say? I want you to go beyond your comfort zone and deliver something that's you."
"To what end?," the boy grunted.
Will sighed. This wasn't going as he had planned, and Kurt was absolutely determined to remain obstinate. If the boy wasn't going to break out of his shell willingly, it was time to force the issue, no matter how painfully. "Fine. You know what the problem is with you and Rachel?"
"I'm sure you'll tell me."
"You're right, and here it is: I don't believe anything you sing."
Kurt reeled back as if struck.
"You've put yourself into this ridiculous competition with Rachel, and I don't understand why. You both are technically perfect singers. You both consistently deliver flawless performances. But they create no emotional resonance within me. I'm invited to watch you sing, but not to participate in the experience of what you're singing. It's unsatisfying and boring."
Kurt swallowed heavily and averted his eyes. "Well," he said stiffly, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
"So am I, especially because I expected more of you."
"And why aren't you telling Rachel these things?," the boy spat.
"Because she wouldn't be receptive. She's not here to learn, Kurt. She's already satisfied with what her voice can do; she's just looking for an avenue to showcase that." He shrugged. "And I'm happy to provide her one, because she's phenomenal and we need her, but she decided long ago what she wanted and she's not interested in deviating from that path. She's a wonderful singer, but Kurt, you're a true vocalist, and that's incredibly rare. There's no limit to what you can do, if only you'd allow yourself."
"Stop it," Kurt whispered, his eyes wet. He began backing away.
"No," Will said, surging forward and grabbing the boy's shoulders. "You need to hear this. You're good, Kurt. I believe in you. I want you to do well because I know you can. You are better than this club, than this school, than this town. Rachel will succeed, not only because of her talent, but because of her confidence." He paused. "Maybe that only extends to her musical ability, I don't know, but it's far more than anything you have. She's the best at what she does, but you haven't even begun to discover what you can do. And I want to be around when that happens."
Kurt forced himself to raise his eyes and meet those of his teacher. "Do you really believe that? You really believe that much in me?"
Will was careful to show no emotion, but the utter disbelief in the boy's voice was heartbreaking. "I do, but that's not what's important. What's important is that you believe it." He cleared his throat. "So this is what's going to happen: you're going to forget about whatever you had planned to sing today. You're not going to play it safe anymore. This is about music, Kurt. It's not about clothes, it's not about orientation. It's not about Rachel or Mercedes or witty comebacks. Today is about you and your voice. There will be no backup singers. You won't hide behind the piano. You're going to stand in the center of this room and you're going to sing your ass off. I don't care if you sing to me, to Finn, or to the entire room. If you want to sing to your mother, then you sing to her, and you make damn sure that she can hear you, wherever she is. Sing to yourself. Sing to whomever you like, but make me believe it, Kurt. Make me feel it."
The boy's eyes dropped to the floor. "I…I don't know if I can do that."
"Oh, I have no doubt you can do it. The question is whether you'll allow yourself. This week, you helped four people to begin to find their unique voices. Now it's time for you to find your own. This isn't about what you sing, Kurt, but how you sing it. I'm not looking for perfection. I don't care if you go off-key. I don't care about anything other than feeling what you feel in that moment."
Kurt bit his lip, sighed softly, and was silent for several long moments. "I strenuously object to your teaching methods," he said finally, "no matter how valid they might be."
Will smiled. "Noted."
Will waited patiently as the others filed into the room, chattering amongst themselves, an occasional raucous laugh escaping someone's lips.
"Where's Kurt?," Mercedes demanded. When an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, she put her hands on her hips, narrowed her eyes, and stared at their teacher. "Well?"
He was having second thoughts about what he had asked Kurt to do. While the boy had agreed to the command, it was obvious that he had been less than pleased and twice as nervous, and had disappeared into the deserted men's room at the end of the hall. Will still believed the idea to be sound, but Kurt was the type of person who planned out his outfits a week prior to their debuts; giving him ten minutes to throw together a performance which would be judged, fairly or not, by his peers was perhaps unwise. Maybe he should have discussed this with Kurt earlier in the day rather than ambushing him into a trial-by-fire.
"Is he sick?," Finn asked, frowning and now concerned.
"Kurt's just a little anxious," Will said. "I disagreed with his song choice and gave him a few minutes to come up with an alternative."
"But Quinn and I were going to sing backup for him," said a confused Brittany.
"I decided he needed to go in a different direction."
Puck laughed. "I'm sure Swishy was thrilled."
"Swishy?," a horrified Rachel repeated. "That's completely offensive!"
"No, it's not," Puck insisted. "It's just a nickname, and he's fine with it."
"Oh yeah?," Tina asked. "And what's his nickname for you?"
Quinn, Santana, and Mercedes all snorted.
"Primordial Ooze," Puck grinned. He then frowned. "I'm not sure what it means, though."
"What's important is that it's right," Santana snickered.
"Word, girl," Mercedes nodded. They bumped fists.
Puck rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Hey, Mr. Schue! So what's the plan for today?"
Will smothered a smile. "Kurt will sing his solo, whatever that is, and then he'll be leaving. He has another, uh, commitment."
Mercedes pulled a face. "He didn't tell me anything about that."
"I guess something must have come up since he last spoke with you. After Kurt's performance, we'll do a brief run through of our routines for Regionals, and then the weekend is yours."
Rachel put her hands on her hips. "How come we're not critiquing Kurt's solo? That's not fair. The rest of us had to be critiqued."
"Who cares?," Matt asked. "We all know he can sing. The boy's pitch-perfect."
"Except for that high F."
Mercedes glared. "Oh, I got your F right here, white girl."
Rachel's eyes widened and Will thought it a good idea to move on. He peered over his shoulder to make sure the door was closed. "Guys, gather around."
Warily, they did so.
"What's going on?," Santana asked.
Will sighed. "Kurt is…very upset with me." He held up a hand. "Not now, Mercedes. And to answer your question, Rachel, we won't be critiquing Kurt's performance today because I spent half an hour with him earlier, critiquing all of his performances of the past few months."
Puck blinked. "Dude."
"Um, was that a good idea to do right before he has to sing a solo?," Artie hesitantly asked.
"That's harsh, yo," Matt said.
"Is he okay?," Finn asked.
Rachel looked hard at Will. "Will it help him?"
He nodded. "I think so."
She nodded slowly in concert. "Good. He's…a good singer." When everyone stared at her, she grimaced. "What? I can admit it."
Kurt entered the room ten minutes later, far paler than normal and obviously shaky. His clothes seemed to hang on him and his hair was disheveled. The others were startled at how wan he appeared, and Santana and Quinn restrained Mercedes when she made to march over to him. Brittany stood and performed an impromptu cheer for the boy, which somewhat broke the tension, though Kurt was oblivious to her efforts. Rachel sat down front, eyes placid and her hands folded in her lap. The rest looked to each other for some sort of cue, but no one had a specific idea.
Will stood and crossed to the piano, where Kurt passed the sheet music to the accompanist without comment. "Are you okay?," he quietly asked.
Kurt stared at him.
Will exhaled sharply. "You know what? Forget it. You absolutely do not have to do this."
The offer of escape snapped Kurt out of his fog. "No," he said, shaking his head. "No, I can do this. I'll do it."
"Are you sure?"
A shaky nod.
"Okay," Will said reluctantly. "Can I do anything?"
Kurt stepped onto his tiptoes. "Can we turn the backlights off?," he whispered into Will's ear. "I just can't watch them watching me."
"Of course." He walked over and turned down the lights. "Strings and percussion, just keep up." He placed a gentle hand on Kurt's shoulder. "Whenever you're ready, okay?"
Another shaky nod.
Will took his seat in the audience.
"You got this, Swishy!," Puck suddenly called out.
"Go Kurt!," Tina yelled.
A round of applause rang out.
Their eyes widened when Kurt released a peal of hysterical, shrieking laughter, and gasped when he plastered a horrifying smile on his face. He took another few seconds trying to even out his breathing, intermittently honking a sound which the others thought either to be a cough or a sob. None of them had ever seen him this upset, not even after a dumpster dive and a ruined designer outfit. It was obvious Kurt was scared, and they were now scared for him. Whatever Mr. Schue had said to him must not have been kind, and Kurt was now terrified of embarrassing himself.
"You can do this, Kurt," Rachel quietly said.
Kurt blinked owlishly and swallowed. "Okay," he whispered, before nodding to the pianist.
The introductory measures announced the song to those few familiar with it, who were frankly surprised Kurt had selected it, as they were expecting something in the vein of Broadway, not popular music. They watched in silence as Kurt still struggled to get his breathing under control.
"I can see you're slipping away from me, and you're so afraid that I'll plead with you to stay."
He sung an octave beneath where he usually sang, and the difference was palpable. His voice was more raw, his vibrato slower and a little unsure, as if waiting for its bearer to seize control. The others were familiar with Kurt's phrasing, but this was far more powerful than anything they believed him capable of delivering, and terribly desolate. They felt, could all but see, the sadness and isolation pouring off him.
He turned sideways and stared down at top of the piano, as if it had the answers he sought. "But I'm gonna be strong. I'll let you go your way." The quiet defeat in his tone was brutal, the resigned acceptance devastating. This was far more than just a performance. Growing increasingly uncomfortable, the audience began to shift restlessly in their seats.
"Love is gone." He shook his head. "There's no sense in going on. And your pity now would be more than I could," he drew in a ragged breath, "bear."
Kurt wanted to call a stop to this immediately. A cease and desist. This had been a massive mistake on his part. He didn't owe these people anything, least of all a window into his soul, something which would only render him even more vulnerable in their eyes. It was one thing to be bullied, but it was something else entirely to be pitied. He didn't want their pity. And this song was improper. It was too honest, too candid, and far too revealing.
What had he been thinking? How could he sing this song, be this naked, with him sitting right across the aisle?
"So I'm gonna be strong. I'll pretend I don't care."
Which was a lie, and an obvious one. And what was worse was that he was calling himself on it in front of everyone, almost all of whom had no idea to whom he was singing or why. He was inviting them to question his most secret thoughts, to witness his most private pain. This was something he had never allowed. Even his father had been denied this entry. Why was he doing this, and why couldn't he stop himself?
"I'm gonna be strong and stand as tall as I can. I'm gonna be strong and let you go along, and take it like a man."
He wasn't strong. He wasn't tall. He wasn't even a man. He was pathetic. A sniveling shell of the person he tried so desperately to be. He was weak, and he had never before believed himself to be. He had put himself out there in the most daring and painful way possible, and he had failed. Spectacularly. He had loved without question or restraint, and it had resulted in his own immolation.
It was unbearable, this pain, and he wasn't sure he could endure it. And he took back every awful and vindictive thought he had ever had about Quinn, Finn, Puck, and Rachel, and their strangle quadrangle, because it was apparent that until now he had never truly understood their confusion and anger and hurt. These were feelings that couldn't be ignored, couldn't be shelved away and unpacked later. It was omnipresent, hanging over his head like a guillotine, always ready to slice through his denial to the diseased tissue which resided beneath, waiting to be excised.
And maybe that time was now. Maybe he had been foolish by trying to distance himself from the pain, rather than feeling it. And who really cared? In the end, what did it matter? Everyone had their sob stories, so what difference did it make if they all heard his? Maybe this was the most normal thing he had ever done. Fine. If Mr. Schue wanted him to make them feel something, he'd make them feel it. All of it. He drew in a deep breath.
"When you say it's the end, I'll hand you a line. Oh, I'll smile and say, 'Don't you worry, it's fine'."
But it wasn't fine, and he was tired of smiling. He was tired of faking his cheer, he was tired of being the son, the best friend, the token fag. He was so tired of being himself, and he was so very tired of being alone. He didn't even bother to blink back the tears, and it was only when they began rolling down his face did he stop to wonder why they were so long in coming.
"And you'll never know, darling, after you kiss me goodbye,"
There hadn't even been a goodbye. Just a muttered apology about how they were too different, wanted different things. And it was true, he realized, it was all true, but that didn't negate everything he had felt. It didn't erase the joy and exhilaration he had experienced, which he knew he would never feel again. At least not with the same person. The right person, or so he had believed at the time. And, were he honest with himself, who he still believed to be the right person.
But it was just one of those things. It wasn't mean to be. Or so he had been told. He wasn't given a choice in the matter. In so many things, he was never given a choice.
What he had done? Where had he gone wrong? Had he been too demanding? Too queeny? Too clingy? That was what hurt the most, all of the unanswered questions, the unspoken condemnations, and he was left with only himself to blame. Because it was easier to blame himself; it always had been. It was easier to accept his own failures while excusing the failures of others. If only he was a different person. If only he was the right orientation. If only his voice was deeper. If only he had a mother. If only he was better at fulfilling everyone's expectations. If only, if only. It was a constant chorus in his head, and he just couldn't shut it out. But maybe one day he'd learn how.
"how I'll break down and cry."
So he cried. Unashamedly. He cried as that note was ripped from his gut and he cried as he held it for all it was worth, and it was, as Martha would say, a Good Thing. And he felt something move through him, cleansing him, absolving him from whatever sins he had committed, both intentional and otherwise. His voice sounded nothing like he had ever heard before, nothing like all of his taped performances which he played back obsessively, in search of any weakness, any imperfection that could be corrected. But life was imperfect, and if he could just accept that, maybe he could accept, finally, that he was allowed to be imperfect as well.
He didn't sound like himself, but for the first time he felt as though he sounded completely himself. And there was no Glee, there was no Rachel or Mercedes or anyone else. There was just him, just Kurt, and for once, Just Kurt was enough. And he didn't give a toss if Just Kurt was crying like a baby because, in this time and in this space, Mr. Schue was right: Just Kurt was fucking awesome.
Right. Schue wanted octaves. So Just Kurt would give him octaves.
"Cry. Cry. Cry!"
He disregarded the sheet music, didn't care if the band could handle the shift in keys. He had stopped hearing them almost immediately after they had begun playing. With each repetition of the word, his voice soared another octave. He easily kept control over his breath and pacing and, by the grace of God or whatever deity was up there looking down on the interesting ants, he managed to do it all in full voice and in one breath, holding the final note for an astonishing twenty beats, a personal best. Good for him.
No one was saying anything. He looked down at his shoes. Had it been that bad? Had it been good? Did they care at all? Did he? He wasn't so sure anymore.
"I hope that's what you were looking for," he whispered, shrugging an unsure shoulder. He didn't even know to whom he was speaking. He grabbed his bag and fled the room.
As the door closed behind him, whatever spell had been cast was immediately rescinded. Will stumbled over and flipped on the lights, shock and awe apparent on his face.
"Holy shit," Rachel breathed. "He's brilliant."
"That was fucking incredible," Puck whispered, shaking his head. "Fucking incredible."
No one was surprised at the tears pouring down the faces of Mercedes, Quinn, or Tina, nor were they surprised by Brittany's whimpering or Artie and Finn's quiet sniffling. If anyone had been paying attention, perhaps they would have been startled by Santana's breathless sobs.
Mike Chang sat very still, his eyes blank, hands curled into fists so tight his nails drew blood from his palms.
Post-Script: So...I'm not too sure about this. I liked it when I wrote it, but now, I just don't know? Please let me know in the comments if you would be interested in a companion piece from Mike's point-of-view, and whether you'd prefer for Mike to try and win Kurt back or just let him go. And if you made it this far, thanks for hanging in there! XD
The song used in this fiction is "I'm Gonna Be Strong," performed by Cyndi Lauper and available on her CD Twelve Deadly Cyns...And Then Some. You can also find the video on YouTube. It's one of my favorite songs, and I think she sings the hell out of it! Oh, and I totally altered the end of the song to showcase the versatility of Kurt's voice. Cyn changes the keys, while I had Kurt change octaves. Because my boy's got it like that. ;)