1. Real Men Don't Commit Suicide

Matt's 13th birthday falls on the first weekend of seventh grade. They aren't all that close, but Dave is invited along with a few of the other guys on the middle school football team. He doesn't know what Matt likes, so he pulls Matt's best friend Mike aside after Algebra I to get some advice.

"Matt likes hip-hop," Mike tells him. "Jay-Z is his favorite. I don't think he has the newest CD."

On Thursday, during their weekly grocery shopping trip, Dave waits until his mother is occupied at the pharmacy counter at Wal-Mart before slipping off to buy the latest Jay-Z album. If his mom caught him even looking at "profane" music, there would be hell to pay, but he wants to impress Matt by getting him something cool.

The party is okay, if kind of boring. Matt's parents hang around with them in the living room as they eat cake and give Matt his birthday presents.

Matt likes the CD, and when he smiles at Dave, it does funny things to his stomach.

Noah (who has stopped answering to anything but Puck lately) shrugs and apologizes for not bringing anything. Then he smirks and waggles his eyebrows comically, and Matt smirks back. They all troop down the hall to Matt's bedroom, and as soon as the door is shut behind them Puck brings out the newest Penthouse magazine.

They cluster around the magazine, ogling the women filling the glossy pages. There are moans of appreciation and hushed giggles. Fingers reach out to trace lewdly down the models' curves. Pointy elbows are jabbed into ribs as they jostle for a better look.

Dave stands uneasily on the outside of the huddle and pretends to be as entranced as his friends. It doesn't do anything for him. They're just…naked bodies. It's like looking at a home décor catalog for all the good it's doing to turn him on.

Puck notices his discomfort and laughs. "What's up with you?" he sneers. "Titties not your thing?"

"What? NO!" he retorts. "I just don't want to get in the middle of a bunch of dudes all panting over some skank in a magazine. This shit is gay as hell."

Finn shoves the magazine in his face. "Then why don't you take a turn?" he says tauntingly. "Prove it!"

"I get to enjoy my birthday gift first," Matt says, taking the magazine back. "Thanks, Puck. Let's go back to the living room."

Finn and Puck back off, but not without shooting Dave scornful looks as they leave the bedroom. For the rest of the party, Dave is quiet and shaken. Why didn't the women turn him on? Why?

He knows why.

On Monday, he opens his locker to find that someone has shoved wrinkly, torn-out pages of Playgirl through the slats. He hears laughter behind him. Finn and Puck. Figures. He flushes crimson with humiliation and anger.

He isn't. He can't be. It's an affront to God.

After school he takes his bike out to the train tracks running through town. He leans his bike carefully against the guard rail and walks slowly, head bent, down the tracks. The commuter train, he knows, will come any minute now. There will be hundreds of passengers on board. Hundreds of lives will intersect with his for one brief, agonizing moment. Then…peace. It will be over – he will be over – before he ever gets the chance to sin.

He can hear the train, the heavy metallic rushing noise of his salvation barreling toward him at 80 miles an hour. He can see the sunlight glinting off the front of the engine. Sweat drips down the back of his tee-shirt. His heart is pounding in his chest. It's almost upon him. This is it, this is it, this is it –

He jumps away, gasping, staggering, swearing, as the train thunders by. Coward, he thinks disgustedly. He can't even kill himself properly. He picks himself up from the ground, grimacing at his scraped up hands and knees.

He gets home just as dinner is being put on the table. "What happened to you?" his mother asks in alarm when she catches sight of him.

"Fell off my bike," Dave lies. No one will ever know otherwise.

2. Real Men Don't Care About Art

The summer after eighth grade, Dave goes to visit his sister Laura and her husband Hank in St. Petersburg for a week. It takes six months of pleading on his and Laura's part to get his parents to let him go. Their mom and dad don't like Hank. They blame him for Laura turning her back on God and becoming a Democrat.

Dave doesn't care about Laura's political beliefs, though he's secretly terrified that his sister will die without ever returning to Jesus and will burn in Hell for eternity because of it. He wishes she'd apologize to Mom and Dad and move back to Lima already. He misses having her around.

Before he leaves, his mom calls Laura one last time to go over the rules.

"You will not talk to Dave about politics," she says. "You will not talk to Dave about religion. You will not take Dave to that nonprofit you work at." You will not, you will not, you will not.

His mom hugs him and kisses him outside the boarding area before sending him through security. His dad shakes his hand like he's a man and it fills Dave with pride.

"Be good," his mom says.

"Be strong," says his dad.

"I will," Dave promises. "I'll see you soon."

At the other end of his flight he's greeted by an enormous hug and two blinding smiles. "DAVY!" his sister shrieks in his ear. "I've missed you so much!"

"Don't call me Davy," he tells her, even though he doesn't mind that she does.

Hank hauls him into a manly, backslapping hug. "Getting big, Dave," he says.

They drive him back to their apartment to have a quick lunch before heading out to sight-see. Laura heats up the grill on the porch to cook the fish that's marinating in the refrigerator while Hank and Dave chop up vegetables for a salad. His dad would say that this was women's work, but Hank seems perfectly happy wearing an apron and wielding a chef's knife expertly.

"I thought we'd go to the Dali Museum first," Laura says as they clear the dishes after lunch.

"Great idea!" Hank says enthusiastically. He turns to Dave. "You'll love it," he promises. "I think surrealism is right up your alley."

Dave has no idea what surrealism is – or what Dolly is, for that matter. But if Laura and Hank think he'll like it, he's up for anything.

He wasn't prepared for this.

He wanders from painting to painting, completely absorbed in the strange and fantastical images captured on canvas. No human hands could have possibly created this artwork. It was too perfect, too otherworldy, too strange to have come from someone's mind. Melting clocks, tigers, people made from landscapes – it's all so beautiful.

He stops in front of a painting of a faceless man and woman sitting half-submerged in the ocean while a smaller person sleeps underwater between them. The woman has wide, round hips and heavy breasts. The man's legs are long and muscular, and his torso – twisted to face the woman beside him – is thin and strong. Dave stares, taking in every brushstroke with ravenous eyes. He can't look in the locker room, but he can look here. The painting won't look back contemptuously and accuse him of being a – one of them.

He wishes the man had a face. He bets it would be a handsome one.

Someone taps his shoulder, and he jumps, startled.

"Easy, Davy," his sister says. She hugs him around the shoulders. "Ooh, Hercules Lifts the Skin of the Sea and Stops Venus from Waking Love for a Moment. Do you like it?"

Dave squirms free. "It's okay. Would be better without the guy, though. I don't want to see some naked dude. That's gross."

"It's just a painting," she says, looking concerned. "And…"

"And what?" he snaps. How long had she been standing there watching him look at the painting? Had she noticed which figure he'd been staring at?

She sighs. "Nothing. Just. You know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Nothing to tell," he says, and Laura looks so sad when he tells her so.

"I love you, Davy," she says simply.

"You too," he mutters. "Can we go now? I don't really like this surreal stuff."

They go to the beach every day after that. Laura never suggests that they visit another art museum.

Every night, Dave dreams of melting clocks and leaping tigers.

3. Real Men Don't Sing

The Spanish teacher has started up a Glee club.

A Glee club.

There's a club at McKinley for singing and dancing.

Dave hangs out in the hallway next to the lockers and watches as people approach the notice, read it, and walk away without signing. A few read it and grab for a pen or pencil.

There's that short, loud girl from his English class – Rachel, that's her name. Dave doesn't think much of her. She always talks down to him when they have to work in groups together. She signs her name boldly and affixes a gold star sticker right next to her signature.

Diva, Dave guesses. She'll probably audition with some showstopper from a Broadway musical. She seems the type. He knows from experience that she has a real set of lungs on her – as long as her range matches her volume, she's probably a shoo-in.

Then that wheelchair kid and his little Asian goth buddy sign up. They've never really been on Dave's radar. He might be a jerk, but he's no Puckerman – Dave's not the kind of man who hits the handicapped or girls.

The wheelchair kid wears sweater vests and has a nasally voice. He looks like a nerd. Boy band stuff, Dave thinks dismissively. The little goth girl is more interesting. Her voice, stutter aside, is low and mellow. Dave wonders if she'll try out with some PJ Harvey song. Or maybe Fiona Apple. I bet she's an alto.

Mercedes, Dave's lab partner in his biology class, signs up, too. Dave likes working with her on group activities. She's good at science and has excellent handwriting. She also has a tendency to ask the teacher questions that will send him off on long-winded tangents that eat up boring classes.

She'll probably sing Beyonce or Alicia Keyes or some other R&B artist who trades in catchy lyrics and big sound. He's heard her humming that kind of music under her breath during class. He knows she's good enough to really grab the spotlight in this Glee club. Hope she doesn't get stuck with just singing the glory notes, he thinks.

And, of course, Kurt Hummel signs up. Dave doesn't know why he's surprised. Kurt never stops going on and on – in better than competent French – about "Julie Andrews" this and "Patti LuPone" that whenever Monsieur Brooks has the class practice their conversation skills. Kid's a Broadway nerd, a theatre geek to his core.

Another Broadway number, Dave thinks. Kurt, with his soft, high voice, is probably a countertenor. Maybe he'll sing a girl's song to showcase his range. That would be pretty ballsy.

Kurt steps back from the bulletin board and turns to walk off. His eyes slide right over Dave as if he isn't even there.

Dave imagines, just for a moment, what it would be like to have Kurt's attention. He'd walk across the hall and sign his name right below Kurt's – in Sharpie, so that everyone could see his signature from ten feet away. He'd ask Kurt to stick around for his audition, telling him, "Your voice is amazing. Will you hang out in the audience while I sing? I'd love to talk music with you after."

He'd sing something timeless – Sinatra, maybe. "One for My Baby." Yeah. He'd sing it straight to Kurt, pulling out all the stops to impress him. And Kurt would smile, breathless, and would applaud furiously, and Dave would wink, and Kurt would blush, and Dave would say –

"Dude," Azimio says, waving his hand in Dave's face. "Coming to lunch?"

"Yeah. Sure."

Dave walks away without signing.

4. Real Men Don't Need to Ask for Help

Dave knows what his grandma would say if she knew he got a D on his Algebra quiz.

"Don't hide your light under a bushel!" she would scold him.

Sometimes, Dave thinks he's all bushel and no light.

It hurts. It hurts to breathe around Kurt. It hurts to see Kurt smiling with his friends and to know with miserable certainty that Kurt will never, ever smile at him like that.

It hurts to walk into the locker room to change. He feels like he has "QUEER" tattooed across his forehead, and that one of these days someone is going to spot it and expose him for the twisted, sick freak he is.

It hurts to go home for dinner and listen to his dad talk about the progress one of his patients has made in overcoming his homosexuality through conversion therapy. It hurts to see his mom hanging off his every word and nodding like it's the greatest thing on earth.

It hurts to visit his cousins in Dayton and hear even eleven year old Paul tossing around "faggot" like it's the word of the day. It hurts to have his uncle slap him on the back and tell him, "Don't sweat the school stuff, Dave. Football, that's where your real future lies. Just you focus on football, and don't let those limp-wristed intellectual pansies at your school tell you anything's more important."

Oh, it hurts. It hurts like getting slammed to the ground by a 300 pound tackle.

It hurts like kissing Kurt Hummel.

It hurts like walking on train tracks.

Dave wishes that one of these days he doesn't get back up from a hit on the field, that some big bruiser from a rival high school would put him out of commission for good. If he weren't able to play anymore, maybe he'd be able to branch out a little. Maybe he'd be able to be more than just some big, angry jock who's only good for playing sports and roughing his classmates up.

It hurts.

Every breath he takes is a lie. Every time he slams Kurt into a locker, it's a lie. Every time he tells his parents that everything is fine, it's a lie. Every time he tells his teachers he just forgot his homework, it's a lie. Every time he flunks a test, it's a lie. Every time he talks back to his parents, it's a lie.

He is Dave Karofsky, liar at large.

The weight of it all is crushing. He tries to tell Kurt sometimes, but the words dry up in his mouth before he can get them out. So instead, he hurts the only person who could possibly understand. "Sorry," he wants to say. "'Sup, homo?" he says instead.

It hurts. He's so tired – every day, he's just so tired. He doesn't want to fight anymore. He wants to lie down and cry until there are no tears left. He wants to lie down and sleep and never need to wake up again.

This is his nightmare. And it's his own fault for being wrong in the head.

Maybe a teacher will notice that he's drowning. Maybe his dad will get his nose out of his ex-gay ministry books and see how close to the edge he is.

Maybe Kurt will save him.

It hurts.

5. Real Men Don't Run Away

Dave sits on the bleachers in the empty auditorium and contemplates liberation.

It started as a pipe dream. Eight dollar bills, all crumpled and dirty from being in his pocket for two days straight, and three quarters, warm from the heat of his body, shoved in a shoebox under his bed – it was little more than a half-baked fantasy. He will never get out of Lima, he thought that first day. He was destined to be miserable forever.

He is four thousand, six hundred and twenty three dollars richer now, and that shoebox has a rubber band around the lid to keep his cash from spilling out onto the carpet. Everything he has made working at the sporting goods store that isn't going to taxes, every dollar his parents give him for the cafeteria, every nickel and dime he sees on the street – it's all in that box.

It's four hundred-eighty-eight and a quarter cubic inches of freedom.

Dave graduates in three weeks. In three weeks and one day, he'll be taking a one way trip to New York City, and he won't be coming back. He can see now why Laura left and never looked back once. His parents are good, kind, loving people, but they are judgmental, bigoted, and narrow-minded in equal measure.

New York City is so close at hand he can almost picture himself there: the bustle of millions of people going about their lives, the gritty smell of steam on asphalt rising to mix with the savory scents of food cart cuisine, the sounds of dozens of languages all blending together to create a single cacophonous hum.

He's already signed a six month lease on a place in Central Harlem, faxing the papers with his signature back to New York using the school library. He hears the crime rate is pretty high, but whatever. Better to risk his safety than to stay here and slowly suffocate.

The door creaks open, and Dave looks up to see Kurt Hummel standing in the doorway. He doesn't think Kurt sees him yet. "Hey," he says quietly.

"Hey," Kurt says, and steps inside, shutting the door behind him. "I just need to get something for Coach Sylvester. Don't mind me."

"Kurt," Dave says. "Could you – could you come here a minute?"

Kurt looks at him warily, but he takes a seat a few feet down from Dave. "What do you want, Karofsky?" he asks.

"I – um."

Kurt's smile has a faintly mocking edge to it. "Yes?"

"You aren't afraid of me anymore," Dave says.

"You stopped trying to terrify me," Kurt replies.

Dave nods. "I never thanked you. For not outing me, I mean."

"You never apologized for being such an unbearable asshole last year, either," Kurt says.

"I'm sorry," Dave says. "And thank you. I'm glad you came back to McKinley."

Kurt doesn't say anything, but that's okay. Dave doesn't expect him to. "Graduation's in three weeks."

"And I'll have a relatively peaceful senior year come next September," Kurt says.

"No, I mean – I'm graduating. I won't – I won't have to be like this anymore. I can be whoever the hell I want to be."

"Karofsky," Kurt says, "you never had to be a bully."

Maybe Kurt's right. Maybe not. But either way – "I'm leaving Ohio. For good. No one else knows. I figure I'll be able to get a fresh start someplace where no one knows me. Someplace like New York City or something."

"There are eight million people in New York," Kurt tells him.

"That's a whole lot of anonymity," Dave says. He looks at Kurt, sitting cool and collected at his side, and throws caution to the wind. "Kurt. If – if we cross paths again someday, after high school's over and done with. Will you let me have a second chance?"

Kurt gives him a steady, appraising look. "That would depend on what this hypothetical future you would do to earn that second chance."

Dave feels relieved laughter bubble up from deep inside of him, and he smiles widely. "How do you feel about Sinatra?"

+1. Real People Live Real Lives

Dave is happy these days. He has a job he likes as an EMT, an Associates Degree in Applied Science from a local community college, and a solid group of friends he likes and trusts. He still lives in his cramped studio apartment in Central Harlem, a third floor walkup with drab walls and linoleum tiles that he's turned into his home. He shops at the bodega two blocks away once a week. He likes to grab a drink after work at Bier International and chat with the other regulars about sports.

There are framed Dali prints on every wall in his apartment.

Laura and Hank visit often to drag him out on the town and make him flirt – awkwardly, clumsily – with men that his sister thinks are cute. Dave doesn't have a flirtatious bone in his body, but it's worth the embarrassment to see Laura so happy for him.

He dates, now. Not often, and not seriously, but he does date. Sometimes he goes back to their places for sex. Sometimes he ends the night with a kiss on the cheek and a sincere, "I had a nice time." He has a type, though he doesn't like to think too deeply about the way that all the men he dates look somewhat like Kurt Hummel.

Dave is gay, and no one seems to really care that he is. Even his parents have stopped trying to "save" him. Dave is gay, and his life is a good one.

Dave is gay, and he is happy.

His sister is in town tonight, and at her behest they are going to a karaoke bar, where she plans to ply Dave with alcohol and make him sing Frank Sinatra tunes all night. She likes the crooners, too, even though she couldn't carry a tune if she had a bucket with a lid on it.

The bar is crowded. Someone is onstage butchering "Greased Lightning" to good-natured jeers and applause. Laura goes off to find an out of the way table while Dave heads to the front to put his name on the list along with his favorite Sinatra song. When he gets back to the table Laura has claimed, she hands him a beer and says, "I saw a guy here who looks like he's just your type." She gestures at a group of fashionable young college students two tables away.

At first, Dave doesn't recognize him. He's older – of course he's older – and adulthood has sharpened the fine, graceful bones of his face. He's laughing at something one of his friends has said, his head thrown back and his eyes shining with high good humor. Everyone at the table is watching him, held in orbit by his irresistible charm.

Dave stares. He knows him so well, and yet – Kurt Hummel might as well be a complete stranger.

"Called it," Laura says smugly. "God, they're all carbon copies of one another."

"He's not a carbon copy," Dave says. He's still staring. "He's the original model."

"You know him?"

"Knew him."

One of Kurt's friends sees him staring and nudges Kurt. Kurt looks up, and the smile slides from his face as he locks eyes with Dave. Dave knows he should stop staring, that he should look down or look away, but instead, he gives Kurt a small, hopeful smile. And after a long, breathless moment, Kurt smiles back.

Dave loves New York. It has to be the only place in the world where you can never meet your next door neighbor, but can run into people you grew up with half a country away when you least expect it.

Kurt murmurs in his friend's ear and stands. He walks over to Dave's table and pulls up a third chair. "Funny place, New York," he says casually, like they're old friends who just saw each other the day before. He turns his smile on Laura and holds out his hand for her to shake. "I'm Kurt Hummel," he says.

Laura grins, looking him up and down. "The Kurt Hummel? Davy, you never said he was hot."

"I did tell you he was handsome," Dave says. "And don't call me Davy." He can feel a blush heating his cheeks. He hopes his sister doesn't scare Kurt off. "This is my sister, Laura."

Kurt just smiles more widely. "It's a pleasure." He looks at Dave in amusement. "So here we are," he says. He leans back in his chair, lounging with artless grace. "If I remember correctly, you promised me Sinatra."

"That I did," Dave says. "I have a few people ahead of me, though. Will you stick around until I go up?"

"Dave," Kurt says, "it would be my pleasure."

Dave is happy these days. Dave lives in a city that is worlds away from Lima. Dave lives up to his potential. Dave likes to sing Sinatra. Dave likes surrealist art.

Dave is gay, and life is good.

Note to readers: any future stories I post will be on archiveofourown . org under the same username.