When they were told that they'd been selected to participate in McKinley High's Challenge Day, Azimio had groaned loudly. "Dude," he'd griped to Dave, "this is gonna be so gay."
"Whatever," Dave had replied as he moved his textbooks from his locker to his backpack. "It'll get us outta class, anyway." He needed a break from French III badly. He needed the break from Kurt Hummel even more.
"There's that," Azimio said. "But c'mon. 'Challenge Day'? What kind of gay shit is that?"
"Dunno," Dave muttered, and slammed his locker shut. "See you tomorrow, man."
During dinner he was quiet and distracted, answering his mom's questions with sullen shrugs and his dad's rambling sports talk with periodic yes's and no's.
"Is something the matter, honey?" his mom asked gently, laying her hand on his wrist.
"No." He stood up abruptly. "Good dinner, Mom. Thanks. Homework."
"You're welcome, sweetie," she called after him as he trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.
What the hell is a Challenge Day? he wondered. It sounded kinda lame. Why the fuck was he chosen to participate? He didn't want to do some kinda sharing-caring bullshit with his classmates. No fucking way was he gonna share anything. Sharing shit just made things harder. That thing that didn't happen in the locker room with Kurt was proof of that. He knew from experience - you don't make yourself vulnerable, and you won't get hurt.
He cast a glance at his homework before turning to his computer. Algebra could wait. He needed to find out more about this Challenge Day crap.
Dave and Azimio strolled into the auditorium on Challenge Day and found that just about everyone else had already arrived. "This better not suck," Azimio hissed to him under his breath.
Dave nodded distractedly, looking around the auditorium to see who all had come. There was that creepy gossip dude over in the corner with some fat goth chick. And there were some guys from the football team hanging out near the stage. There were a couple Cheerios standing together and whispering. Over against the wall were the Spanish teacher and the counselor. And not more than a few yards away, Kurt was hanging out with his little Asian goth friend.
Kurt musta felt Dave's eyes on his back or something, because as soon as Dave spotted him, he looked up and stared back.
Dave ducked his head and wiped his palms off on his jeans surreptitiously. Shit. "C'mon," he said, jerking his head in the opposite direction of where Kurt was standing. "Let's get out of the doorway."
He knew Azimio must've said something in response, but he could barely hear his friend over the sudden thundering noise in his ears. How was he supposed to get through Challenge Day now?
After students stopped trickling into the auditorium in twos and threes, some woman with frizzy blonde hair and an oversized "Challenge Day" t-shirt shut the door and turned to the group.
"All right," she called out. "Welcome to Challenge Day, everyone. My name is Patty, and I'm here to help you all learn a little something about each other and about yourselves. Now, with the help of my assistants" - she beckoned toward the crowd, and ten students stepped forward, each wearing a similar shirt - "we will begin by rearranging ourselves. Will all of you please go stand by someone who is not your friend?"
For a moment, everyone just stayed where they were, shuffling their feet awkwardly.
"It's okay," Patty encouraged. "Just pick someone and go stand by their side."
The Jewfro kid was the first to move, surprisingly, crossing the room to stand by Hudson. Then Hudson's annoying girlfriend walked over to stand next to Azimio. Then everyone started moving but Dave.
His shoes must've turned to concrete bricks or something, because he couldn't get himself to walk those twenty feet separating him and Kurt. Kurt met his gaze once again, but this time he was the one to break it, shaking his head and going to stand by Puckerman, who gave Kurt a look that was part confusion, part hurt. Dave felt a pang in his chest that he resolutely refused to acknowledge as having anything to do with Kurt Hummel.
"Hi," a quiet voice said from his side, interrupting his thoughts. He turned his attention from Kurt to Kurt's little goth pal, who looked up at him hesitantly.
"Hi," he said shortly, hoping to get her to stop talking to him.
She tried again. "I'm Tina."
"Yeah," he said, and turned his head away.
"Is that everyone?" Patty asked loudly. She looked to the kids in the t-shirts for confirmation, and at their nods, clapped her hands. "Great! Now that we're all rearranged, we're going to play some games to warm up. Everybody ready to have some fun?"
A handful of kids answered with a lukewarm "yeah."
"I said, are you ready to have some fun?" Patty cried.
"Yeah!" everyone shouted. Dave rolled his eyes. Across the auditorium, he could see Kurt doing the same thing.
"Great!" Patty said again. "Emma, Will, if you could grab the beach balls?"
Miss Pilsbury and Mr. Schuester ran to the front of the auditorium and pulled a half-dozen beach balls out of a large storage bin.
"Everyone spread out," Schuester yelled. "Take up the floor space as much as you can. The objective of the game is to keep the beach balls from hitting the floor."
Dave stepped away from Tina. He'd barely taken a half-dozen steps when Schuester called out again.
The balls were flying. It was chaotic. It was totally lame. And despite his best efforts to not enjoy himself, it was pretty damn fun.
After several goofy games and a few uncomfortable hugs, Patty rounded them up into small groups. they collapsed into the chairs they were directed toward, still breathless and smiling. Dave looked around at the group he was in and felt his stomach lurch when he realized Kurt was sitting right across from him.
As soon as they were all seated Patty clapped her hands again to get their attention."This exercise is called 'If You Really Knew Me,'" Patty announced. The smile slipped off Dave's face immediately. He'd forgotten that this part came next. "What you'll be doing is telling the people in your group things you haven't told them before, using the words 'If you really knew me' to start your sentences. You can keep things as lighthearted as you'd like, or you can open up and get personal. There's no judgment here."
Some pasty white chick Dave thought was named Lisa or Linda looked around the circle of chairs before she spoke. "Who wants to go first?"
"Me, I guess," Mike Chang said. "If that's okay." He paused, and when there was no objection, he said, "If you really knew me, you'd know that I used to pretend to hate math, just so that people would stop stereotyping me."
"But isn't it like a compliment or something?" Lisa/Linda asked. "You know, like everyone thinks you're smart?"
Chang shook his head. "A stereotype is still a stereotype," he said. "Asian people aren't like the Borg. There's no hive mind. We're all individuals with different interests and abilities, just like everyone else."
"Speaking of," Kurt said dryly. "If you really knew me, you'd know that I absolutely hate it when people make jokes about me being a girl. I'm not, nor do I wish to be." He cut a sidelong glance at a different group. Dave followed his line of sight and spotted Puckerman, Santana, and the wheelchair kid all sitting together. "And I really, really hate it when people I consider my friends are the ones who do it."
"I'm sorry-" Chang started to say. Kurt interrupted.
"Don't. You've never been a jerk to me. Don't apologize for the people who have been."
"Okay," Lisa/Linda said. "If you really knew me, you'd know that my parents are in the middle of a messy divorce, and they're fighting over who doesn't have to take me."
"Whoa," Dave said, stunned. "That's - wow, that sucks." She teared up, and he reached over to pat her shoulder consolingly.
"I'm sorry you're going through that," Kurt chimed in.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Thanks," she whispered.
Silence fell, and Dave was momentarily confused until he realized they were all looking at him. "Oh. Um, if you really knew me, you'd know that while my folks are really nice, they're only nice to people they think are the 'right kind' of people. And, uh, that's a really short list." He looked at Chang and Kurt. "They probably wouldn't think either of you were the right kind of people."
"That-" Kurt cut himself off and looked at Dave with an unreadable expression.
"Explains a lot," Chang finished for him. "Damn."
"I mean, I love 'em, don't get me wrong," Dave said quietly. "But I know that a lot of the messed-up crap in my head is at least partly their fault. And I don't know if I can forgive them."
Kurt's hands twitched in his lap, and for a second, Dave thought he was going to reach across the space between them to touch him. But instead, Kurt crossed his arms and looked down at his lap, and Dave tried not to feel disappointed.
"If you really knew me, you'd know that my girlfriend is embarrassed by my mom because she's a really traditional Chinese woman," Chang said after a long, uneasy silence. "And that sometimes I'm actually embarrassed by my girlfriend for her disdain for our shared heritage."
"If you really knew me, you'd know that the only thing that keeps me from blowing my brains out some days is knowing that I'm getting out of here when I graduate," Kurt said.
Lisa/Linda said, "If you really knew me, you'd know that I've left home to live with my aunt in Columbus four times this month already, and I'm just waiting for the trip where they decide not to come after me again."
"If you really knew me," said Dave, "you'd know that I'm ashamed to be who I am sometimes."
"If you really knew me, you'd know I've passed up a dozen opportunities to enter dance competitions because I was scared of being called gay, or worse."
"If you really knew me, you'd know that I'm seriously considering transferring to a different school to get away from all the bullying here."
"If you really knew me, you'd know that I had an eating disorder in middle school, and sometimes I don't think I'm entirely recovered."
"If you really knew me, you'd know that my temper scares me."
They went around their little circle, exposing ugly, painful truths to the light of day over and over. Dave could feel Kurt's eyes on him, and every time he said "If you really knew me" and didn't tell the Big Secret, he felt a little smaller in Kurt's eyes, and a little more ashamed of his cowardice.
A brisk clap startled their group, and they looked up just as it was Dave's turn again. "Alright," Patty exclaimed, looking around at all the groups and smiling proudly. "Everyone get up and line up over against the wall with your toes on the masking tape." She gestured to the far wall, where Schuester and Miss Pilsbury were waiting.
The sound of a hundred chairs scraping against the wood floor briefly filled the air as everyone stood up and made their way over to the wall. In his rush to claim an inconspicuous spot on the line, Dave failed to notice who he was standing by until Azimio jostled him with his elbow on his left and Kurt cleared his throat on his right.
Great. A sick, uneasy feeling grew in his stomach.
Patty surveyed the ragged line of students and smiled again. "If anything I say applies to you, I want you to step across the line and briefly move to the other side of the room. Okay?"
Up and down the row, heads nodded. Dave didn't nod. Dave didn't move a muscle.
"Okay, man?" Azimio asked under his breath.
"Yeah," he muttered. "Fucking fantastic."
He could still feel Kurt's eyes on him. He wished he was brave enough to reach over and grab his hand. He wished he could run screaming from the auditorium. He did neither.
Patty nodded back at the students. "If you've ever been given a hard time about your religious beliefs - about having them or about not having any - cross the line."
Kurt stepped across, holding his head high. Farther down the line, Hudson's girlfriend, Puckerman, that Quinn Fabray chick, the gossipy kid, and a handful of others walked across with him.
"Okay," Patty said. "Now go back to the other side." She waited until everyone was back in place before saying, "If anyone has ever made you feel like you were less important or less of a person because of the color of your skin, step across the line."
This time it was Azimio who left Dave's side, walking across the auditorium with Chang, Chang's girlfriend, Santana, and a couple dozen other kids. They stood at the other side of the auditorium, staring back at the students who hadn't crossed the line. Patty waved them back over.
"If you've ever been made fun of for your weight, or made to feel like there was something wrong with your body, cross the line."
Dave crossed at this one, acutely aware of Kurt and Azimio keeping step with him as over half of the students walked to the other side of the room. "Seriously?" he asked Kurt quietly.
"Coach Sylvester told me I had pear-shaped hips," Kurt told him. He paused, then added, "I'm sorry about the chubby crack."
"Don't mention it," Dave said as they walked back to their starting point. "Seriously. It's okay."
"If you've ever been called a bitch, a slut, a whore, a tramp, or any other insult meant to make you feel like you were worth less than your male classmates, cross the line," Patty said, and Dave winced inwardly when every single girl stepped across the line without hesitation.
"If you've ever been made to feel like you were dumber than your peers, cross the line," Patty instructed them, and Dave and Azimio crossed the auditorium again.
"Don't even think of it," Dave told Kurt when he got back to his spot. Kurt closed his mouth on whatever it was he was going to say. Nearby, he heard someone sniffling, and as he looked up and down the row he spotted several tear-streaked faces.
Patty said gently, "If you've ever been afraid to be honest about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender because you feared the reactions of your friends and family, cross the line."
Dave froze again, panicked. How could she ask that? How could she ask them to just...just OUT themselves like that? Like it was nothing? His breath caught in his throat, and he stared at Patty, feeling bizarrely betrayed.
There was barely a stir in the line, no one wanting to be the first to move. Finally, with a heavy sigh, Kurt stepped across by himself, and there was no way Dave was walking across to be the only other person standing by him.
Then it happened. Santana broke apart from the line, walking across with her spine so stiff she looked almost brittle. Brittany followed, looking relieved and grateful. Then a mousy-looking girl Dave thought was in his Algebra II class walked across. Then another guy Dave recognized as a kid from the A/V club.
Dave trembled. They were just - crossing. Like it was okay. Like it wasn't a big deal. He breathed in unsteadily. His vision blurred, and he could feel wetness spreading down his cheeks.
When they reached the other side, they turned to face the kids who hadn't walked across. They looked nervous. They looked defiant. They looked like everything that Dave wanted to be.
Patty raised her hand to wave them back across, and Schuester caught her wrist, inclining his head silently in Dave's direction.
The word he'd seen pasted in Kurt's locker flashed through Dave's mind.
If he didn't cross, he'd never forgive himself. And with another unsteady, ragged breath, he steeled his nerves and took the hardest step he'd ever taken in his life.
He locked his eyes on Kurt's, blocking out everything else in the room. The only things that mattered were Kurt's face and putting one foot in front of the other. Then he was there, and there was Kurt, and he realized dimly that he was crying so hard he was shaking, and -
And Kurt pulled him into a hug, wrapping his wiry arms around Dave's body and holding him upright. It felt like when he'd kissed Kurt, only a hundred times stronger: a hundred times the fear, a hundred times the awe, a hundred times the relief.
"I'm so sorry," he choked out.
"Don't even think about it," Kurt said, and his voice sounded clogged and wet as well.
Someone touched his back softly, then more firmly, and he felt himself steered to a chair by the hand on his back and the arms around his ribcage.
"Take a breather," Patty said quietly. "Both of you can rejoin if or when you feel up to it."
Never, Dave thought, but he nodded anyway, keeping his eyes on the floor. Kurt must have nodded as well, because Patty moved away, and soon Dave could hear the other kids walking back to the line.
"Is it okay to say I'm proud of you?" Kurt murmured.
"Is it okay to say I'm grateful you exist?" Dave whispered back.
"Then yeah. It's okay."
They sat silently after that, Dave leaning on Kurt's shoulder heavily, Kurt absentmindedly rubbing his back, just watching the other students move back and forth across the line.
Courage, he thought to himself. Courage.
Maybe tonight he'd find a way to tell his parents.
Note to readers: any future stories I write will be posted to archiveofourown . org under the same username.