This was written for a prompt on livejournal. Excuse the completely irrelevant title.

0. The first time he hears the word "fag", he's six years old. One of his neighbours has been driving him home for a month now, concerned for Kurt because he has a father who's barely moved from the armchair in his living room in weeks.

Kurt goes inside and crawls up onto his dad's lap without a second thought, asking what the word means and why everybody laughed when Paul had said it.

Burt hums and tries to think of any answer that won't make this worse. He settles for gently smoothing the hair on his son's head and telling him it's a cruel word and he should ignore the boys who say it.

"You're better than them, Kurt, okay?"

And Kurt accepts that answer, sliding off his lap and disappearing up the stairs.

1. He tries to take back the word once it starts to sting.

It takes a long time before he's even comfortable saying that he's gay, but afterwards, he tries to convince himself that if he just uses it himself, the hurtful connotation will go away and he'll be able to deal with it better.

Finn looks awful when he uses the word, "Don't call yourself that."

"Why?" Kurt hates that he's crying, but Finn has just found him sulking in the auditorium and he's the last person he wants to see, "It's what I am, isn't it?" He wants to stop crying, but using the word–the first time he's done it–has opened a wound in his chest that makes him feel like he's dying.

"No!" Finn blurts, and Kurt turns back towards him, arms crossed, and feels a brutal sense of déjà vu: Finn's stance is nearly identical to Kurt's dad, the way he'd been unable to hold himself together because he knew Kurt's sadness was his fault and wasn't sure how to fix it. Except this time, Finn shouldn't have to fix it. It's not his fault Kurt can't get over a ridiculous crush on a boy who can't be blamed for not returning it, "I mean... I know you're gay, but you shouldn't call yourself that."

Kurt turns away, walks to the edge of the stage, and sits down. He slides his legs out from under him until he's dangling them off the edge, and Finn sighs before walking over to sit beside him, but not close enough that they're touching.

"I'm sorry." Finn says, and Kurt closes his eyes, sighing around the exhaustion that he feels.

"You can't help not being gay, Finn." Finn makes a noise like he's about to protest and then it chokes off into silence. Finn always tries to make things better.

"I'm still sorry."

Kurt laughs, gripping his hands against the edge of the stage and turning his head to rest his chin on his shoulder and smile at Finn. "Don't be. Really. I'm a fag, but someday I'll find another fag and he'll be spectacular."

Finn grins and claps him on the shoulder, "Exactly."

Kurt wipes his eyes and allows Finn to push him off the stage. They walk side-by-side out of the auditorium, and then Finn touches his hair like the annoying big brother he's trying to be. "Seriously, though. Don't call yourself that word."

He doesn't promise he won't, because even through the pain of calling himself that, he still thinks using it himself will make it hurt less.

2. He really does try. Every time he uses it, though, the emotional wound seems to tear him apart more and more.

He regrets it the instance he says it, even though it's accompanied by a slew of insults directed towards the opposing cheerleading squad.

Sue Sylvester's hand closes on his shoulder and he thinks he's done for. He shouldn't be insulting the other team, that's her job, why would he even think that's a good idea?

His petrified face is apparently enough for Santana to spare him a sympathetic pout, but she quickly turns back to talking to Becky when Sue looks at her. The hand on his shoulder tightens as they leave the loud pep rally and she steers him away, towards the open door of a classroom in a foreign school.

This is it, he thinks, I'm going to die sixteen miles from home and nobody will ever find my body because it's Sue Sylvester and her parents were Nazi hunters and oh my god, does she know my great grandfather was a Nazi?

She lets go of him, twisting her hand so he stumbles and turns his body to face her. He takes an involuntary step backwards as he registers just how terrifying her anger is when it's directed at him and not Schue.

"What was that appalling and offensive display back there?" Kurt sputters, chest heaving in panic, and she steps closer, bringing their faces an inch apart and growling, "I expect an answer, Hummel."

"I'm sorry, but they were insulting Brittany and Becky and it was hurtful and I was simply trying to defend them," he straightens a little, trying to bolster himself and stop rambling, "If my friends need defending, I have to act on my instincts, and those girls were being hateful and cruel and–"

"I don't care what those girls were saying. You–" she pokes him roughly in the chest and he inhales as quietly as he can, "are a winner, Hummel. You've won a national cheerleading trophy and are one of the very few talented children in that horrendous club of William's. If I ever hear you put yourself down again, I will personally guarantee that everything you attempt in your life ends in failure." He nearly stops breathing. What?

She turns, having seemingly delivered her message, and snaps her fingers at him, "Come, ladyface."

He swears he'll never use that word again.

Not in front of her, at least.

3. "Look, I get it, I'm a fag and you don't like it, but can we not do this today, I don't have time for–" he breaks off as his backside hits the keys of the piano; the noise echoes in the choir room and Dave Karofsky's smile widens.

It's another round of Smear the Queer, and so far this year, he's managed to avoid the beatings. He knew it was only a matter of time before they caught him, so he sets down his bag and stops looking for an escape. Azimio and Donahue step forward, cracking their knuckles threateningly, and then the cracked door to Mr. Schue's office smashes fully open.

Kurt freezes, and both boys back away from him immediately, stuffing their hands back in their pockets and dripping excuses, "Hey, Schuester, we were just–"

Schue cuts them off, voice dripping with anger, "I know exactly what you were doing. Get going, before I give you all detention."

They flee, and Kurt bends to pick up his bag as Mr. Schue comes around the piano and claps a hand on his shoulder, smiling warmly at Kurt.

"Are you alright?"

Kurt smiles, nodding his head, "Yes, I'm fine. Thanks for that, Mr. Schue."

The hand disappears from his shoulder, waving away the thank you, "Don't worry about it, Kurt. It's my job."

He says it so emphatically that Kurt can't help the biting "Yes. It is." The words send a wave of regret–not for hurting Schue, because really, he's ignored Kurt at the dumpster once too many and seemingly forgotten all about the threat made against him during GaGa week–through Kurt and hurt washes over Schue's face.

He looks down, shuffling through the papers on top of the piano and avoiding Kurt's gaze, "I know I've been neglectful of some of the problems you face–"

"Some?" He nearly claps a hand over his mouth. I must have left my filter at home.

Schue looks up, stricken, "Kurt, I'm sorry." Kurt wants to apologize too, because while the first comment wasn't appropriate, the second was just unnecessary, "I need you to know that you can come to me about anything you need to. You're one of my kids now, Kurt," he glances past Kurt, staring fondly at the class photo he's posted beside the door, "and I plan to take care of all of you."

Kurt nods, his cheeks fluttering awkwardly around the smile he's trying to force, "Thanks, Mr. Schue. It really means a lot," he takes a step backwards, walking sideways towards the door so he can still face his teacher, "And what you did today was great too."

Schue nods distractedly, focused on the papers again, and Kurt turns fully towards the door. Schue calls his name as he passes through and he braces a hand on the door to stop, turning slightly backwards to face his teacher.

He's still staring passively at the stack of music. "If I ever hear you call yourself that again, I will make everybody sing about what it's like to be gay."

Kurt actually laughs.

4. He has no idea how often his dad actually hears the word, but every time he witnesses one of those times, he barely recognizes his own father.

This time, he's terrified for himself, because his father has just fired a man and is screaming at him in the middle of a crowded garage. Customers and employees–and Kurt–look on in terrified rapture as spit flies from Burt's mouth and the employee in question nearly wets his pants.

"Get. Out." Burt finishes, pointing his finger at the open garage door, and the employee scarpers, running into a tool bench and then just running, sprinting down the street to his car.

Everyone else in the garage deflates, assuming the storm has passed, and then turns to Kurt and growls, "You. In the office. Right now." Kurt's eyes are huge in his head, and he wants to look at somebody else, but his dad's face is red and his jaw is set and Kurt is terrified.

He turns, fleeing into the office without a second thought. He's pretty sure he emits some high-pitched squeak that the guys at the garage will bother him about for weeks, as long as Burt isn't around. The door slams behind him as he lowers himself into the only chair and his dad starts closing the blinds. For a split second Kurt thinks his dad is going to spank him or something mortifying, but then common sense regains control and he breathes again.

"How dare you use that word, Kurt." His voice is quiet and much less angry than it was a moment ago, but Kurt prefers screaming matches. Screaming matches he can handle. When his dad gets stubborn and quiet, it always feels deadly to Kurt.

"I'm sorry, I just–I figured if I used it myself sometimes, it wouldn't hurt as much coming from other people."

His dad leans against the desk, facing him in the chair, and presses his hand to his eyes, "I forbid you from using that word."

Kurt gapes, "You forbid me?" he nearly laughs, but his dad's look is still serious and too calm, "What decade is this?"

Burt shakes his hand, gesturing a hand at Kurt smoothly, "Don't play that on me. I work so hard to make sure you don't have to put up with that shit. Not while I'm here. Not while I can do anything about it." He lets out a shaky breath and scoots forward, leaning down to place a hand on Kurt's shoulder, "I'm supposed to protect you from this stuff. How am I supposed to do that when it's coming from you?"

Kurt searches for words, nearly in tears, and finally settles for a pitiful, "I don't know," followed by a quiet, "It doesn't work, anyways."

His dad's hand tightens for a moment and then he moves forward, wrapping his arms around Kurt and the chair, "Don't use it again, okay?"

"Okay," he mumbles, pressed into his dad's chest awkwardly, and then his dad releases him. He clears his throat gruffly, like he usually does after he's yelled or cried or hugged Kurt, and leaves the room.

It takes Kurt a few minutes to pull himself together.

5. The last time he ever uses the word, he's eating lunch in the hallway–on the floor. Ew.–with Santana and Brittany. Mercedes and Quinn are off designing costumes for their next performance, and as much as he enjoys watching them freak out over sewing machines, he knows Mercedes will stab him with pins if he gets in her way.

Brittany says something about how awesome the three of them are together, to which Santana merely arches an eyebrow and doesn't comment–something Kurt has realized she does when she's amused but doesn't want people to notice.

Kurt, however, remarks casually, "Yes, three fabulous fags in a row." It's not even another attempt to "take back the word", merely a creative choice to use alliteration in a sentence. "Gorgeous gays" didn't have the same ring to it.

Santana is not offended. In fact, she snorts. But Brittany nearly crawls over Santana to hit him as hard as she can in the stomach. He hates that; Brittany does not know her own strength, and she has no qualms about hitting other girls or boys who have very little abdominal muscle.

Kurt doubles over and Santana starts laughing full on.

"Don't call us that."

She lifts a pinkie and doesn't seem fazed when Santana can barely pull herself together enough to link her own through it, and glares him down.

"It's mean."

He gapes, glancing at Santana and wheezing. A few tears–of pain and maybe a little embarrassment that Brittany just winded him–escape before he can manage, "Brittany, I was talking about all of us, not just you and Santana."

Her eyes roll back into her skull and Santana stops laughing–her face is no longer red. Brittany frowns at him some more, "It's still mean, and you shouldn't call yourself that." Santana grins, loving his pain, and because he hasn't said anything in reply to Brittany, she raises her fist again.

He throws his hand out in surrender, "Don't, Brittany!" and because she still doesn't look happy, adds "I swear on this outfit that I will never utter that word again! Just–don't hit me."

Brittany stares at him a moment, looking utterly serious–he has to fight not to laugh, because Brittany being serious is comical and hard to process–and then she smiles, bouncing her hair happily, "Good, because I was going to go for your crotch next."

He nods, gulping, and if he moves his bag onto his lap after he's finished eating, nobody can blame him.

1. He's never going to use the word again, and considering how every time he's used it he's received some kind of angry response, he isn't expected the brutal slam of betrayal when Mercedes uses it.

Karofsky has been hissing it at him for the last ten minutes, trying to get him to turn around in the assembly they've all been forced to attend, and he's kept his hand tight on Mercedes' arm to keep her from saying anything.

It's not enough to stop her from twisting back and practically growling at Karofsky. "He may be a fag, but he's my fag." Rachel, sitting in front of the pair of them, turns around, appalled, and Mercedes turns back, lifting an eyebrow and, if she wasn't still holding Kurt's hand, likely would have crossed her arms, "What, diva?"

Rachel's eyes dart to Kurt pointedly, but he is pretending, completely determined, that he is paying attention to... whatever Figgins is talking about.

"It's not like I meant it offensively, pipsqueak. Kurt is my fag–" Kurt winces, which Rachel sees but Mercedes doesn't, "–and I'm his fag-hag. He doesn't care what I call him. Do you, boo?"

Kurt manages to shake his head no, of course he doesn't mind, and smiles at her. She twiddles her fingers through his before turning to talk to some girl from their class, who is sitting on the other side.

Rachel stares at him, and he shakes his head at her, begging her not to keep talking. She huffs and turns around, but she crosses her arms and keeps shifting to let him know she's not going to leave it alone. He doesn't need to hear her anger on his behalf. He's already furious at himself, because as many times as he's said it, as many times as so many other people have said it to him, it hurt a million times more than any of those has ever hurt.

He wishes he could go back a minute and tell her it hurt, tell her not to call him that, because now she'll keep using it. She'll keep calling him a fag, and he'll pretend it doesn't hurt until he can't anymore. And by then, he'll be broken apart by how many times his best friend has thrown that hurtful word around so carelessly, and she'll be devastated because her best friend didn't tell her that she was breaking his heart.

Reviews are love.