Post "Prom Queen".
Kurt took a deep breath to brace himself as he walked up the steps of McKinley High, lifting his chin and straightening his posture as he let the gust of air whoosh past his lips. He straightened the lines of his eggplant purple silk shirt and dark gray herringbone trousers, fingers twitching up to check the placement of the elegant purple and gold monarch's crown brooch he wore at his throat.
He had not been in the mood for brilliant colors and ostentatious styling today, but he had wanted anyone who looked at him to receive a subtle reminder of what they had done on Saturday night. He wanted them to remember that Kurt Hummel had triumphed over the cruel attempt to humiliate him by crowning him Prom Queen.
In spite of that event, he had managed to have a good time on Saturday night, dancing with his classmates and Blaine for the final hour of the prom and refusing to let anyone see how much they had hurt him. As far as anyone else could tell, he had been proud, happy and carefree.
Blaine had known the truth, of course, and had glued himself to Kurt's side like a fierce little watchdog for the rest of the evening and all day on Sunday. He had charmed Kurt's reluctant father into letting him spend the night on the Hummel sofa, and had whisked Kurt off for adventure the moment he came downstairs. He had started off by buying him breakfast and then taken him sight-seeing, as difficult as that was in boring little Lima, OH. He had been feverishly determined to distract Kurt from any temptation to brood, filling his hours with songs, slyly sneaked kisses, wild bouts of shared laughter and good conversation.
Kurt had been grateful beyond words, but now Monday morning had arrived and Blaine could not be here to face this particular challenge with him. It was up to Kurt alone to walk through those wide front doors and face his peers, not knowing whether the events of Saturday night would make him a hero, or even more of a joke than usual.
He began to relax a bit as he made his way up the stairs and toward the east wing hallway where his locker was located, receiving nothing more sinister than a couple of sneers and a middle finger from one of the hockey players. Considering the questionable brainpower of anyone who thought that sporting a mullet made him a badass, Kurt was magnanimous and simply ignored the pathetic puck-head.
When Kurt rounded the corner and saw his locker, he stiffened instinctively, like a rabbit poised to flee from a wolf. Dave Karofsky was leaning against the metal door, waiting for him.
Reminding himself for the hundredth time that Dave had declared his bullying ways to be in the past, Kurt slowly approached him. "Now that prom is over and done with, I find it unlikely that Santana will bother keeping up the Bully Whips," he said quietly, noting the bright red jacket his companion was wearing – though thankfully he had eschewed the beret this morning. Kurt always had a terrible (and potentially suicidal) urge to laugh when he saw that particular fashion don't. "Particularly in defense of the guy who cost her the crown. No one will expect you to escort me to class anymore."
Dave shifted to the left, allowing Kurt to spin his combination and begin gathering the appropriate books from his locker. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, eyes darting nervously around to make sure that nobody was listening. "About Saturday, about running out on you like that."
One slim shoulder lifted in a casual shrug. "Probably my own fault for suggesting that moment would make a good coming out party," he said, equally softly. "I apologize; it wasn't my place to push."
"I just couldn't do it. They hate me already," the big teen muttered. "The guys, I mean. Some of the girls too, I guess. They hate me for protecting you with this."
He ran a hand over the sateen lapel of his red jacket.
"Yes," Kurt agreed sourly, giving his already perfect hair a spritz of hairspray just to have something to do with his hands. "I strongly suspect that was the real reason you ended up being crowned alongside me. What better candidate could they choose to play 'humiliate the homo' with me than the turncoat who's been protecting me? Ironic, considering that you would have been the ringleader as little as a month ago."
Picking up on the hint of bitterness in his voice, Dave's jaw set. "I told you I was sorry for all that."
Setting the can of hairspray back inside his locker, Kurt turned to look him in the eye, his own eyes flashing with annoyance. "I know. I get it. I even accept that you might just mean it, but one apology can't just erase a year and a half of targeted torment, David. A couple of weeks escorting me to class and making yourself look like a public hero to the underdog does not counteract all the shoving, name calling, and other more personal abuses you've heaped on me since the day we met. It doesn't change the fact that you deliberately hurt and terrified me every chance you got, just because it made you feel like you had control over your own . . ." Realizing that his voice was rising, Kurt dialed it back to a sharp whisper, "Secret."
To his surprise, having half expected a shove or a punch to the face, an automatic retroaction to his former bullying ways, Dave Karofsky just slumped back against the lockers again, looking so tired and defeated that Kurt instantly felt guilty.
"You're right," the jock mumbled. "You didn't deserve all that crap. Not the stuff I did to you and not what happened on Saturday. If either one of us deserved to be punished by everyone that night, it was me."
Startled by the level of self-loathing he could hear in the other boy's voice, Kurt reached out and touched his arm. "Nobody deserves to be publicly humiliated, Dave. Especially over something they can't control."
Ducking his head, the bigger boy surreptitiously dashed at his eyes, sniffling as he drew himself back up to his full height and threw his shoulders back, attempting to disguise his moment of weakness. "Yeah . . . yeah, I guess. So, was it very bad after I left the dance? Did they . . . were you . . . did you stick it out?"
Knowing what he was trying to ask, Kurt nodded. "I did. Blaine asked me to dance, right there in front of everyone. A horrible moment was transformed into a beautiful one. I've never felt so proud or thankful for anyone in my life."
"I wish it could have been me," Dave replied gruffly, clearly taking Kurt's words as additional chastisement, even though he had not meant them that way. "You deserved that after being so awesome about accepting the crown. You totally owned all those losers. I . . ."
He suddenly blushed bright red and Kurt's eyes widened in shock. "You, what?" he asked carefully, a little nervous all of a sudden.
"I was proud of you," he said, the words filled with quiet honesty. "You were really amazing, Kurt."
A shy smile tilted Kurt's lips. He wasn't ready to forget all that this boy had put him through, or forgive all of the pain, misery and sacrifice that Karofsky's self directed homophobia had cost Kurt and his family, but the unexpected compliment made the burden lighten just a little bit more.
"You'll get there one of these days, Dave," he said sincerely. He smiled more fully when the green eyes rose to meet his, a spark of hope shining in their depths. "I promise. All it takes is a little courage, and maybe a friend or two to back you up when you don't feel strong enough to stand alone."
Hesitating only a moment, Kurt held out his right hand. For a second, Dave stared at the offered appendage as if he thought it might bite him. He quickly glanced around the increasingly crowded hallway and Kurt sighed in defeat, allowing his hand to lower as he realized that even that small gesture was too much for this boy to face in public.
Startling him, the other boy suddenly shot forward, capturing his hand before it could drop all the way back to his side. The large hand felt warm and hard in Kurt's palm, strong enough to crush him, and he abruptly flashed back to the feel of those same hands tightly clutching his face in a desperate grip as Karofsky – not Dave then – forced their lips to meet in an unwanted kiss.
Fighting the urge to yank his hand free and back away, Kurt instead squeezed, forcing himself past the memory. It was time they both started over fresh.
The first bell rang, breaking the moment and the two boys released each other's hands instantly. "I, um, I'd better get to class," Kurt said evenly. "Mr. Bain hates tardies and I can't afford to get detention today."
"I'll walk you. Santana might not care anymore, but until Principal Figgins says otherwise, the Bully Whips are still in business," Dave said, reaching into his back pocket and producing his red beret. Hearing Kurt's swift snort as he placed the tiny hat upon his head and fixed it just-so, Dave gave him a tiny sideways shove. Not enough to hurt him, just enough to throw him a little off balance as they walked. "Shut up, Hummel. At least I'm not wearing a lady brooch."
The comment, which would have enraged Kurt a few months ago, was met with a smirk and a toss of his head. "That's because your sense of fashion is severely undeveloped," he shot back. Eyes sweeping coolly up and down his escort's form, from the frayed laces of his dirty sneakers to the tip of his jaunty beret, he added, "Clearly."
Dave, who also would have taken great offense just a few weeks earlier, just snorted. "Yeah, well, if that's what you call fashion, then I'll stick with what I got."
"And that severe lack of vision and inspiration is why you will never rise beyond the plebian standards of this town," Kurt returned quickly.
A sparkle of enjoyment filled his eyes as they continued their sharp banter all the way down the hall. Dave paused to flex his fists and glare daggers at a few brave souls who ventured to cat-call them as they walked together, but for the most part the other students left them alone. Kurt felt surprised, but ultimately grateful for the lack of drama.
When they reached Kurt's first period English class, he nodded his thanks. "I have Puck, Lauren and Santana in the next few classes with me. You don't need to play bodyguard anymore if you don't want to." Seeing the doubtful expression on his face, Kurt smiled. "Maybe you can just meet me outside the Chem lab after 4th period and escort me to the cafeteria. Finn and the other Glee kids won't mind if you eat with us. Well, Mercedes might, but she'll get over it if I tell her it's my idea."
"I dunno," he mumbled, looking nervous again as he rubbed a hand over the back of his thick neck and shifted in place.
Kurt shrugged. "It's fine if you'd rather not. I understand that you don't need any more heat from the jocks. Just thought I'd offer."
"Thanks," he grunted. "I'll . . . I'll think about it."
Without another word, he turned and strode off toward his own first class. Kurt watched him go, a thoughtful expression on his face. He doubted the closeted jock would find the courage to buck his usual habits by lunchtime, and he wasn't even sure why he had asked.
It had just felt like the right thing to do. Kurt suspected that he had cracked open the door of Dave's stuffy little closet one more inch just by offering. He did not owe David Karofsky anything. Quite the opposite, in fact, but Kurt remembered how oppressive that closet could be. How scary it sometimes still felt to venture out into the light. How easy it could be to lash out at people who seemed to have things so much easier than you did, all because you were scared of being yourself.
Dave might find the courage to open his closet the rest of the way by himself some day with enough outside encouragement. Even if Kurt never personally saw it happen, the possibility that someday it could happen was reason enough to keep on trying.
No, he did not owe it to Dave, but Kurt could not help feeling that in some strange way he owed it to himself.