Disclaimer: Glee belongs to Ryan Murphy and Fox, not me.

Special thanks to nonexistent puppy and Sahraylia for helping me with plot ideas!

Finn drummed his fingers anxiously on his knees while Kurt drove. Kurt hadn't spoken to him all morning, other than a perfunctory "good morning" and the usual "hurry up, Finn, you're going to make me late."

He was pretty sure an apology was going to make things better. Apparently not.

Kurt turned the car into the school parking lot. He was still wearing long sleeves, but he'd gone back to his skinny jeans. His palms were still covered by the fingerless gloves. Finn wondered what his injuries looked like now.

"Finn. We're at school. Get out of my car."

He blinked. "Oh. Sorry," he said, climbing out and slamming the passenger door behind him.

They had only made it a couple yards towards the school when Puck grabbed them by the arms- Finn on his left, Kurt on his right- and dragged them behind the dumpster. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"Ow, Puck," Finn complained, pulling his arm out of his best friend's grasp.

Puck scowled, which would have been frightening if it hadn't been for his unfortunate choice of a tee shirt. "The hockey team is out for your blood, Hummel," he said.

Kurt blinked. "Noah, are you wearing purple?" he asked.

Puck actually shook him. "Cops showed up at hockey practice last night. They asked all kinds of questions about you. Half the team got disqualified from playing the next game and Karofsky and Azimio got suspended for a week. And they got kicked off the team!"

"Are you serious?" Finn said.

"Dead serious," Puck said. "They're going to kill you, Hummel."

Finn glanced over at Kurt. He had gone completely white and his eyes were huge. "I can't give them the satisfaction," he said.

Puck shook him again, Kurt's arm still caught in his grip. "Go home," he said. "They're out for blood."

Kurt weaseled out of his grasp and started walking towards the school. "If I go home, they win," he said sharply. "I go to school anyways, all I have to do is stay in the vicinity of a teacher all day and they can't get me. Ergo, I win."

Puck and Finn jogged to catch up with him. "Hudson, call his dad," Puck ordered.

"You're not calling him."

Finn caught up. "At least let us stay with you," he said. He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Kurt, look, I know you're proud, but you can't do this alone."

"I don't like people fighting my battles for me," he said through his teeth. But he didn't object when Puck flanked him on his other side, effectively blocking him from any outside attacks.

They got into the school without any issues and made their way to the rehearsal room. It was quiet and peaceful and all the signs of struggle had been cleaned away. Puck closed the door and flicked on the lights as Kurt sank into a seat on the front riser.

"So, have your funeral plans in place?" Puck snarked.

"I'm not in the mood, Puckerman," Kurt said quietly.

Finn sat down beside him. Kurt was silent, lost in his own private world. It was eerily similar to a few months ago, when Finn had just found out through the McKinley gossip factory that "the fag's dad is dying." Back then he had attempted to comfort Kurt with a pat on the shoulder and was promptly rejected with a small shake of the head and a wag of the finger.

He tentatively reached over and put his hand on Kurt's knee. It was a relief when Kurt didn't shake him off. Finn squeezed his knee lightly.

The door banged open and Kurt jumped involuntarily, pulling away from Finn's hand. Puck half-rose from his seat on the piano bench, but sat back down when Quinn came in.

"What's going on?" she said. "I just walked by the hockey team, and they're pissed. In fact, they're past pissed, they're murderous."

She paused, the door swinging shut behind her. In one glance she took in Kurt's surprisingly normal clothes, his pale face, and his dazed expression. She crossed the room and sat down beside him. "Are you all right?" she asked gently.

"I'm just trying to get my thoughts in order," he whispered.

She took his hands in hers. "You should go home," she said. "Put your pride aside and keep yourself safe."

"I'll be fine," he said.

She pulled his gloves away and set his hands on her knees. "I don't want you to get hurt," she said.

"I can handle it," he said, still not meeting her eyes.

Quinn didn't argue, but she turned his hands palms up, exposing the dark red lines, and lifted them to her lips. He didn't pull away. It was almost as if he couldn't.

The choir room door banged open again, this time flooding the room with various members of the glee club. Kurt pried his hands away from Quinn and slipped his gloves back in. They were all chatting and laughing, but the sounds died away as they realized Kurt was there.

He licked his dry lips. "Good morning," he offered.

"Are you okay?" Mercedes blurted out. "Honey, if something happened, why didn't you tell us?"

He smiled. "It's not as bad as it sounds," he said, shrugging.

"Don't listen to him," Puck said from across the room, crossing his arms as he lounged on the piano bench. "The police report sucked pretty bad."

"How do you know?" Quinn asked.

Tina stepped out from the crowd with a crumpled piece of photocopied paper. "The whole school knows," she said.

Quinn stood up and snatched it from her hands. "How'd they get this?" she demanded.

"One of the hockey players has a dad on the force," Artie explained. "Trent Andrews. His dad showed him the whole report."

"Isn't that illegal?" Mike said.

Kurt was still curiously calm. "I told you I shouldn't have filed it," he said serenely. "It was only going to make things worse."

"Don't say that," Quinn snapped. "We needed to go to the authorities."

"I don't think this is really a good time to argue," Rachel interrupted gently. The others turned to stare at her. "Look, the hockey team is lost without Karofsky and Azimio. They're just a ball of disorganized rage. There's no way they'll be able to focus their anger into any kind of targeted attack."

Kurt rolled his eyes. "Fantastic," he said. "Rachel Berry is discerning battle strategies."

"Let's just get through this week," she continued, as if she hadn't heard him…or maybe she had just ignored him. "We can worry about Karofsky and Azimio when they're back."

"We?" Kurt said, arching an eyebrow. "What are you saying, 'we'?"

Rachel blinked. "You can't really expect you're going to stick this out by yourself, do you?" she said.

He shrugged. "I've done all right on my own so far," he said coolly.

Rachel sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Look, this isn't really…I don't want to fight," she said. "Just…we all really care about you, okay?"

"Yeah," Puck said. "Don't you think there's a reason we're all dressed like this?"

Finn glanced across the room. All of them, every single one of them was wearing something purple. Rachel had a lavender dress, Tina had mauve streaks in her hair, Artie wore a purple argyle sweater vest. Even the Cheerios were defying Coach Sue Sylvester's orders and added something to their strict uniform- Quinn's cardigan, Santana's hair ribbon, Brittany's leggings.

Kurt just stared at them.

"I knew you wouldn't want us to do something big," Mercedes said quietly. "I talked them out of it."

"I had even suggested a rousing performance of an inspirational song, but I was outvoted before I could narrow down my list," Rachel added.

"We just wanted you to see that we cared about you, without being too in-your-face about it," Mercedes finished.

Kurt was still unable to speak. "Why would you do this?" he said.

Brittany slipped out of the rest of the group and sidled up to him. He raised an eyebrow at her as she knelt in front of him and put her hands on her knees. She lifted her face towards his and kissed him lightly, chastely, on the lips. "We love you," she said simply.

For a second Finn thought Kurt might be stuck frozen like that for the rest of his life. Brittany smiled up at him. Kurt finally blinked and his lips parted, as if he was trying to speak and he couldn't quite do it. He gazed around him, at the friends that he continually held at arms' length.

"Thanks," he finally said, slightly dazed.

The bell rang, and the glee members started dispersing to their first period classes, some of them pausing to pat Kurt on the shoulder or say something reassuring. He accepted it blindly, barely acknowledging them past a nod or a vague smile.

"Come on, Hummel," Puck said, rising from the piano bench.

"Come where?" he asked.

"Ethics. C'mon, you'll be late."

Kurt stood up and followed him obediently, still too stunned to object. Finn watched him go.

"Finn, don't you have to go to history?" Quinn asked.

"Hm?" he said. "Oh, yeah."

He stood up, his eyes still trained on the door. "He's going to be okay," Quinn murmured, half to herself.

He shouldered his backpack and turned towards her. "I hope so," he said.

The day passed without incident, thankfully. Kurt was never left alone. Mike, Sam, Quinn, Santana…they all took turns walking with him, making sure to take the most crowded paths, or at least the ones known to be heavily populated by teachers. Finn tried to keep up when he could. But Puck was there the entire time, looming over him like a grim-faced shadow. And even though Kurt and Puck were never really friends, or even conversational acquaintances, it was reassuring to see the mohawked bully keeping his eye on Kurt. Maybe it was because he actually cared, maybe it was because he felt obligated to help out his best friend's stepbrother, but no matter the reason, at least Kurt was protected.

The bell rang for three o'clock; Finn met Puck, Quinn, and Brittany at the back doors of the school. Kurt was with them, his backpack slung across the shoulder. It had to have been from middle school; it was blue and slightly worn and had his monogram embroidered across the top.

"Why does your backpack say 'keh'?" Brittany asked.

"Those are my initials," Kurt explained patiently.

Puck scowled. "The 'e' doesn't really stand for Elizabeth, does it?" he asked warily. Kurt just smiled.

"Hey, guys," Finn said as he caught up. "We'd better hurry. Coach Beiste will kill us if we're late."

"I've never been so scared of a woman in my life," Puck mumbled under his breath as they walked towards Kurt's car.

Quinn laughed. "You were never scared of me?" she said.

"You don't count," Puck said. "You're not a woman, you're a…little woman. Not the same." Quinn rolled her eyes.

Kurt unlocked his car. "I never thought I would miss my remote," he sighed.

"We're still looking for your stuff," Finn said.

Kurt shrugged. "You probably won't find it," he said. "My bag and all its contents are probably long gone by now."

He climbed into the driver's seat. Brittany waved. "Bye, Kurt," she said.

"Bye, Britt," he said. He closed the door, buckled his seatbelt, and drove away.

Quinn sighed. "Come on, Brittany," she said. "Let's go."

Brittany jogged beside her to the gym. Puck and Finn followed them. "So that's it?" Puck said. "We're just going to have to stalk Hummel for the rest of his life?"

Finn shrugged. "I hope not," he said. "I guess we just have to wait for things to calm down."

Puck followed him silently into the locker room; most of the football guys were already changed out and heading to the field. "Was he really that effed up?" he asked, dropping his voice lower. "I mean, you told Rachel and she told Mercedes and she mass-texted us, but I figured they were just exaggerating."

Finn shoved his bag in his locker and started changing into his practice clothes. "I don't know what you heard, but yeah," he said. "They really worked him over."

Puck stripped off his shirt. "Like how?"

"Like dragging him through the parking lot on his knees, knocking him out, drawing all over his face," Finn said. He slammed his locker door savagely.

"They drew on his face?" Puck said skeptically.

"Purple sharpie," Finn said. He sat down on the bench and pulled on his cleats. "They wrote 'faggot' on his forehead. Kurt freaked. He didn't want his dad to see it."

"That sucks," Puck said quietly. He punched Finn lightly on the shoulder. "Hurry up, Hudson. You're making me late."

They reached the field just before Coach Beiste blew the late whistle. Finn threw himself into practice, blocking out all of his thoughts. It was a relief to turn off his stream-of-consciousness and just run around and hit stuff for three hours.

He was sweaty, dirty, and exhausted by the time practice was over, and it felt awesome. Sam clapped him on the shoulders as they headed to the showers. "Awesome run today, dude," he said.

"Thanks," Finn said, grinning. "You're not too bad yourself."

Sam pulled him aside from the flow of traffic as the football team trooped back into the locker room. "I've been hearing some stuff about Kurt," he said. "Did he really put the moves on Karofsky?" Finn blinked. "What are you talking about?" he said.

"Some of the hockey guys were in here before practice," Sam explained. "They kept talking about how Kurt was…he was trying to get Karofsky to make out with him."

Finn was struck speechless. "You're not serious," he said.

"Yeah, they kept talking about it and-"

"No, I mean, you don't seriously believe that, do you?" Finn said. "Geez, Sam, you're an idiot."

He brushed past the blond. "What?" Sam said, following him. "They kept saying-"

Finn whirled around. "Okay, first of all, I know you're new to McKinley, but nobody trusts the hockey team," he said. "Hockey is for the people who aren't good enough to make people and not dorky enough for wrestling. No one listens to them. Second of all, Kurt is way too small to force himself onto Karofsky. That's like asking a miniature pony to attack one of those Budweiser horses."

Sam frowned. "Did you just compare Kurt to a pony?" he said.

"And third of all, Karofsky is totally not Kurt's type," Finn rattled on. "Kurt likes guys who are tall, and kind of lanky, and dark haired."

"And you know that how?"

"Never mind," Finn blurted out, the sudden blush on his cheeks rushing up o his ears. "Just…I know Kurt can be kind of manipulative sometimes, but he wouldn't try to seduce somebody. He gets too flustered to actually flirt. He's more…more…" He wracked his brain valiantly for the right term. "Passive aggressive! He's passive-aggressive."

"Look, I'm sorry," Sam apologized. "I'm sorry I believed the hockey team. I don't really know Kurt all that well, and I guess I was wrong about him."

"Yeah, you were," Finn said. He pulled his shower stuff out of his locker. "A lot of us have been wrong about him."

He sulked through his shower, he sulked while he got his stuff together, and he sulked while Puck drove him to his house. "Dude, what's up with you?" Puck asked. "You had an awesome practice. Usually you won't shut up about how cool you are."

"Yeah, well," Finn said, crossing his arms and staring out the window. "I don't feel like it."

Puck maneuvered his car into the Hummel-Hudson driveway and put it in park. "I know you're freaked out about Kurt, but this isn't going to last forever," he said. "In a couple of weeks, they'll have moved on to somebody else as their favorite target."

Finn glanced at him "Are you sure about that?" he asked.

Puck shrugged. "I'm not sure about anything," he said. "All I know is that there are plenty of dorks for the school jerks to pick on, and Kurt's tougher than he looks. I mean, he might dress all fancy and sing like a girl, but he's tough."

"I hope you're right," Finn said. He picked up his backpack and got out of the car. "Thanks for the ride." Puck stopped him from closing the car door. "You're doing good by him," he said quietly.

"Thanks," Finn stammered. He hadn't seen Puck that serious before. Puck let go, letting the car door slam, and drove off down the street, his junky car sputtering exhaust fumes into the dark.

Finn walked into the house. "Hi, honey," his mom said. "How was football practice?"

"Good, really good," he said, dumping his bag by the front door. "Whatcha watching?"

"Ice Truckers," Burt said, his eyes glued to the screen. "You ever seen this before? Those guys are crazy."

"No, I haven't seen it," Finn said. "Where's Kurt?"

Burt looked away from the television. "Downstairs, working on homework," he said. "He's looking a lot better. School go okay for him?"

"Yeah, nothing really happened," Finn said.

Burt smiled, relieved. "Good," he said fervently. "They'd better cut him some slack."

Carole turned around on the couch. "Oh, your dinner's on the stove," she said. "I made pork chops."

"Thanks," Finn said. "I'm going to eat downstairs, I think. You guys have fun with the ice truckers."

He went into the kitchen, got his dinner, and popped it in the microwave. He grabbed silverware and a can of Mountain Dew while he waited for it to ding, then grabbed the hot plate, balancing them carefully, and headed downstairs.

Kurt was curled up on the couch watching television; his homework was spread out over the coffee table. He glanced up at Finn, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose. "Puck give you a ride home?" he asked.

"Yup," Finn said, plunking down beside him. Kurt scooted his science textbook out of the way.

They sat in silence as Finn tore into his dinner. Kurt balanced his notebook on his knees, glancing from his work to his book to the TV. Occasionally he would smile at something funny on his show.

"What is this?" Finn asked, pointing at the screen with his fork.

Kurt glanced up and readjusted his glasses. "Arrested Development," he said. "It only lasted three seasons, but it's great. Fox never knows what to do with good shows."

Finn swallowed a too-large bite of mashed potatoes. "What's it about?" he asked.

Kurt raised an eyebrow. "You really want to know?" he asked.

Finn shrugged. "Sure," he said.

Kurt sighed and put his notebook aside. "It's too hard to really explain," he said. "You might as well watch the pilot. It'll explain everything."

Finn realized he was actually kind of excited. Kurt was actually talking to him about something he liked. And it wasn't his usual posturing about his favorite clothes or obscure show tunes. It was…well, there was only one way to describe it.

They were halfway through the episode when Finn couldn't keep it in any longer. "You know, this is the sort of things that brothers do together," he pointed out.

"Hm?" Kurt said absently, labeling the mitochondria of a cell in his worksheet.

"Brothers do this," he repeated. "You know…sit around and watch TV together."

Kurt glanced up. "You really think we're brothers?" he said.

"Well, yeah," Finn said. "I mean, your dad is probably going to end up marrying my mom."

"Hm," Kurt said. "See, that makes us stepbrothers. It's not the same."

"Why does that matter?" Finn said.

"It's not a blood relation," Kurt said. "We will never have any real obligation to each other."

Finn frowned. "Why not?" he said.

"Why not what?"

"Why won't you let me care about you?" Finn asked. "Or anyone, for that matter."

Kurt's lips thinned. "My dad cares about me," he said stiffly.

"What, because he's obligated by blood?" Finn said. "Your dad doesn't care about you because of some stupid responsibility. He just loves you."

"What's your point?" Kurt asked.

Finn tried to keep his voice calm. He didn't want this ending like last night's altercation. "My point is that there are plenty of people who care about you, just because," he said. "And you won't let them."

Kurt set down his homework and crossed his arms. "Look, Finn, I don't have a very good track record with people," he said. "In elementary school, the boys wouldn't be friends with me, only the girls. In middle school, the girls realized I didn't have a crush on them, so they ditched me for the boys who did. In high school, I'm an easy target. I practically have a bullseye on my forehead."

He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I've had a handful of crushes," he confessed. "Either I was too terrified and didn't do anything about it, or I went overboard and scared them off. I'm just not any good with people, Finn, and there's nothing I can change about that."

Finn tried to keep his facial expression as neutral as possible. He didn't think he was successful. Without thinking, Kurt tapped the earpiece of his glasses against his lips and studied he floor. "People don't like me, Finn," he said quietly. "They like me as an overly flamboyant stereotype. I make a great shopping buddy for my allies, and a great punching bag for my enemies. I just have to deal with it."

"Kurt, that's not true," Finn said.

Kurt didn't look like he was going to cry. He just looked thoughtful. "You know, the only people who know who I really am are my parents," he said. "My mother's already dead, and when I thought my dad was going to die…well, it sort of felt like I was going to die too. And in a way, I was."

He looked Finn in the eyes, his expression strangely soft. "I just have to wait it out," he said. "I'll go somewhere else, kick the dust of this town off my shoes. Maybe then I can find someone that I can get to understand me."

"Kurt," Finn interrupted, his voice sounding a little sharper than he had intended. "We would understand you a whole lot better if you just let us."

Kurt blinked, almost startled by the roughness in his voice. "I…I don't think I can," he said softly. He cleared his throat and picked up his homework. "We might have to start the episode over. You're missing all the funny parts."

"Go ahead," Finn said, settling against the couch. "I want to watch it."

Kurt reset the episode and sat back down, his legs tucked underneath him. He kept working on his homework, but Finn stretched his long arms across the top of the couch. And he was sure it wasn't anything intentional, but by the time they finished the first disc, his arm had moved from the top of the couch to Kurt's shoulders, and Kurt was sitting close to him, his homework discarded.

It wasn't much, but at least it was something.

Author's Notes:

Gah. Yet another chapter that ends in a random argument.

I have such trouble dealing with Kurt's pride. I mean, what else do I have to put the poor child through before he finally relents? Oh, it's ridiculous. He's so stubborn.

Also, I put in a little nod to one of my other favorite television shows! I think Kurt would like Arrested Development. And I think that Finn would be incredibly confused by it. Finn is the George Michael of Glee, if you will. Kurt's sort of a Maeby...maybe. Quinn would be Lindsay...Puck would be Job...Mr. Schue would be Michael...

I need to stop rambling.

Special thanks goes to Sahraylia and nonexistent puppy for their wonderful ideas that surfaced in this chapter! I really appreciate the help. See, I know how this story is going to end...but I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to get there. I have a few more incidents planned (many of them thanks to wonderful, lovely, intelligent reviewers!) but I can take all the help I can get.

But yeah. I'm really loving the Glee fandom (as you could probably tell). I have some more oneshots planned (Mercedes and Quinn helping Kurt in the immediate aftermath of Fag-gate 2010, Rachel dragging Quinn to visit Beth and Shelby, Quinn dealing with her screwed up family) and well as new chapters for my currently posted stories. And of course, the Red Bull and cookie dough story. But if you have any ideas at all, for this or for anything else, I would love to hear it!