Jesse would never admit it, but he's been facebook stalking Rachel Berry – and, by extension, the rest of New Directions – since last year's Regionals. He can't help that he was curious to see how they're doing and more than a little concerned for Rachel's well being. He saw first hand how she dealt with rejection, and now that he had some sense knocked into him from college, he's realized just how much he cares about her.

So he decided show how much he cares by facebook creeping.

At first he just checked her wall at almost alarmingly regular and frequent intervals. He would watch the occasional videos she still posted of herself singing Broadway showstoppers and pop tunes. He would gag over her and Finn's wall-to-wall posts. He would smile whenever one of her status updates mentioned glee club and just how happy she was.

Then he worked up the courage to 'like' one of her videos. It was her singing What I did for Love from A Chorus Line, and the emotion in her voice was so poignant it was almost painful. He waited an hour before actually commenting on it, saying a simple, 'Nice work,' even though he wanted to rave about her range and her grasp on the meaning of the song and how perfectly her inflections mirrored the imagery the song presented.

And he didn't spend the next week re-watching it obsessively and waiting for some indication that she had seen his comment.

Well, he hadn't been de-friended, at any rate.

He tried commenting on her status next. Rachel Berry needs suggestions for what song to sing for her next video. Finn had posted that she should sing something from a Disney movie. Jesse (who wasn't at all trying to one-up Finn, so stop looking at him like that) posted, 'Try looking up something by Jason Robert Brown or Kerrigan & Lowdermilk. They all have an uncanny knack for putting real life into lyrics.'

He had not under any circumstances walked around grinning for the next week because she had taken him up on that suggestion, posting a rather heartbreaking rendition of Not a Love Story that he immediately 'liked.'

From there, their online relationship had blossomed. Rachel posted videos and he commented on them. She asked about college and he told her all about the student production of Zanna Don't! he had somehow landed the lead in. (Kurt had butted in on that one, asking Jesse how on earth he managed to play a gay stereotype and not doubt his own masculinity, to which Jesse had replied with, 'I'm a theatre kid. We're all gay until proven straight anyway.') Their relationship progressed until they were actually using facebook chat rather than wall-to-wall posts, leading up to the point where he told her good night daily for almost a week.

It was like having an online, long-distance girlfriend, except that his profile still said 'single' while hers said 'in a relationship with Finn Hudson.'

Except one day Rachel's profile suddenly said 'in a relationship.' Jesse had immediately gone to Finn's page, noticing that he had hidden his relationship status. He scoured both their walls, not seeing any sympathetic posts from concerned friends or anything to indicate the start of a new relationship for one of them.

He kept his facebook window open all night, constantly checking it and noticing a post on Finn's wall from Santana (Now that Man Hands is out of the picture, want to go back to that motel?) before it was deleted minutes later.


He had to restrain himself from posting a very long, drawn-out, and lyrical rant on Finn's wall about treating women with respect and not going behind someone's back. Then he realized that, coming from him, that would seem a tad hypocritical. Besides, he didn't know the whole story. He wasn't about to make a facebook ass of himself just because he was upset on Rachel's behalf.

Besides, he was coming back to Ohio for Thanksgiving break. He counted himself lucky that New Directions and Vocal Adrenaline were both competing in their Sectionals competitions on different days, so he could go watch both.

He had planned his post on Rachel's wall for weeks. Guess who's coming back to Ohio! You'll find me front row center at Sectionals watching you lead your club to victory with a smile on my face and a bouquet of flowers waiting for you in my arms. He almost posted it, too, but there was something about her unchanged relationship status that stopped him.

No. He wasn't going to push. He was going to be respectful. He was going to support both of his old clubs, all of his old teammates. He didn't have to be the center of attention anymore – his constant casting as 'swing/ensemble' after Zanna Don't! had done wonders for the size of his head – and besides, this was Rachel's turn to shine. He was going to let her shine all the brighter because he wasn't going to do anything to take attention away from her.

He ended up sitting near the back, watching in horror as the curtain opened on the Dalton Warblers and he recognized Kurt on their lead singer's left side.

Clearly his facebook creeping skills needed some help if he hadn't known about this. Transferring schools was a big deal, much bigger than he had made it out to be. His parents had all but bribed Figgins to let him into McKinley, egged on by Shelby's promise to pay for half his college tuition if he did that for her. He wondered why Kurt had left McKinley, deciding to send the boy a lengthy message via facebook after the competition. They were good enough friends to warrant curiosity, weren't they?

But Jesse would re-evaluate his and Kurt's friendship status later, because he was more concerned with how the boy looked onstage. He looked uncomfortable and nervous, not at all like himself. The Warbler's lead singer was selling it like nobody's business, but nothing could hide the fact that at some points, Kurt was a full step off his choreography.

Jesse clapped politely anyway. The Warblers were very good, even he had to admit. He even let a, "Yeah Kurt!" escape his lips, attracting the attention of those in his immediate vicinity. The woman sitting next to him raised her eyebrow at him, so he mirrored her expression, not missing the muttered, "Homo," she said to her lap.

Gay until proven straight, even here, apparently, Jesse couldn't help but chuckle.

And then it was New Directions' turn. Jesse turned in his seat expectantly, watching the rear of the auditorium. If he knew the club like he thought he did, Rachel or Finn would come bursting through those doors any minute. A couple people in the seats around him turned as well, most likely out of curiosity.

He didn't know the boy who was singing and walking down the aisle, but he recognized Quinn. Jesse's nose wrinkled, not in disgust, but confusion. This song really did not suit Quinn's voice at all. He couldn't imagine why they had chosen Quinn over Rachel for this particular song. Admittedly Sam's voice was more pleasing to the ear than Finn's, but the boy's nerves were on display for all to see. Jesse watched the pair walk down their aisles, singing in each other's faces once they met onstage.

Once the rest of the club entered, Jesse had eyes only for Rachel.

She looked unhappy. He kept blinking hard, convinced his eyes were playing tricks on him, but no, Rachel definitely did not look happy. Her usual confident stage persona was gone, replaced by an insecure sixteen year old who wasn't entirely sure what she was doing.

Come on, Rachel, he found himself coaching her in his head. Chin up. You can do this. I know you can. Come on.

Regardless of what was the cause, Rachel looked much more confident come the second song. Which, strangely enough, she did not have the lead for. Jesse was shaking his head, for while Santana's voice was suited for this song, it made no sense for New Directions to pick Quinn and Santana over Rachel. Rachel was their best singer and she always had been, so why were they choosing now to put her voice on the backburner?

He didn't get a chance to ask.

Once the Warblers and New Directions had tied, things had gotten chaotic. The woman sitting next to him turned out to be the daughter of one of the Hipsters, so she had gotten all fired up about them losing. When Jesse had tried to squeeze past her to head for the exit, she had rounded on him, asking why his boyfriend should be allowed to go to Regionals when he had his whole life in front of him to achieve something. His reaction – loud, obnoxious, snorting laughter – hadn't helped matters.

By the time he had finally freed himself from her ranting, New Directions had all boarded their bus and were at the far end of the parking lot, turn signal blinking as they headed back to Lima. Jesse shrugged a shoulder and kicked a stone, listening to it clatter on the concrete.


He turned, a smile breaking across his face when he recognized Kurt. He was standing with the rest of the Warblers, all of whom were standing on the sidewalk close to the curb, no doubt waiting for their own bus.

"Hi, Kurt," he stepped over to the group of boys, feeling out of place next to their matching blazers. "You were all wonderful in there." He didn't mention how Kurt had looked like he was going to shit his pants.

"Thanks," Kurt smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. Jesse was instantly curious, but he quashed the desire to ask by chuckling and telling Kurt all about the angry daughter of one of the Hipsters, including the comment she had made about them being boyfriends.

"I'm so sorry," Kurt looked positively mortified, which hadn't been what Jesse had been going for at all. "You shouldn't have to deal with that sort of thing. I'm sorry, Jesse."

"Nah," Jesse waved this away, echoing his previous thought. "I'm a musical theatre major. We're all gay until proven straight anyway." That earned him a light chuckle.

One of the boys standing with his back to Kurt turned, no doubt wanting in on the joke. Jesse recognized him as the Warblers' lead singer, so he stuck out a hand, saying, "Great job."

"Thanks," the boy was looking at him with an expression halfway between remembrance and confusion. "I'm Blaine. You're from Vocal Adrenaline, right?"

"Was," Jesse corrected him, giving Blaine's hand a squeeze before letting go. "Jesse St. James. I'm at UCLA now. Musical theatre major."

"That's right, you're the guy who stomped us last year at Sectionals," Blaine's voice was light and it didn't sound like he held a grudge.

"We tend to do that," Jesse couldn't help the smirk that broke across his face. "I'm sure they'll kick both your asses once Regionals come around."

"Both?" Blaine's eyebrows furrowed.

"You," Jesse gestured to Blaine, "and New Directions," he gestured towards Kurt. "Oh, wait," he laughed, shaking his head. "Nevermind. I keep forgetting you're not at McKinley anymore."

"I'm a Warbler now," Kurt shrugged one shoulder, "with Blaine." This time the smile did meet his eyes.

"What made you change schools?" Jesse asked, figuring now was as good a time as any, but right then a charter bus pulled up and a slender Asian boy called out, "Okay, Warblers, this is us!"

"It was nice meeting you. Officially," Blaine gave Jesse's arm a little pat before turning to board the bus. Kurt, however, lingered back.

"Bullying," he tried to sound offhand, rocking on the balls of his feet. "It just got to be too much, and Dalton has a no tolerance policy. So I switched and here I am." His eyes seemed to sparkle, and Jesse suspected that had nothing to do with Dalton and everything to do with the shorter boy with slicked back hair who was now boarding the bus.

"I'm sorry to hear that. About the bullying, I mean. I'm sorry it reached that point. But I'm glad you're happy." He put a hand on Kurt's arm, steering him over to the bus, where the line of waiting-to-board Warblers was dwindling. "Listen, I'll be in for the holiday if you want to catch up at all. I know we were never really close, but sometimes it's nice to have someone removed from the situation to talk to. Especially when that someone is a musical theatre major at UCLA, meaning he's been on the receiving end of quite a few gay jokes. I never really understood just how hard you had it, but now I think I have an idea."

Kurt's eyes were sparkling for an entire different reason now.

"Too much?" Jesse asked, attempting to lighten the mood.

"You're supposed to be a dick who's bent on crushing all our hopes and dreams with your band of soulless robots," Kurt reminded him. "Who are you and what have you done with Jesse St. James?"

"I'm Jesse two-point-oh," he grinned. "The one that got his ass handed to him courtesy of his college friends who weren't willing to put up with his crap. I'm really nice now." He nodded enthusiastically, then gave Kurt a little pat on the back and a nudge towards the bus. "Now get going back to gay Hogwarts."

He walked away before Kurt could ask where the hell he had come up with that name.

When his phone buzzed five minutes later, announcing that he had a text from Kurt, he smiled, pleased that he wasn't the only one who hadn't done a mass purging of phone numbers after the whole ND vs VA showdown last year.

Gay Hogwarts? Really, Jesse?

He laughed, texting back, Have you seen those uniforms? Please. Totally gay Hogwarts.

So maybe he hadn't accomplished his goal of meeting up with Rachel and rekindling a friendship, at least, but he had successfully gotten himself on good terms with Kurt. He would say speaking terms, except that it was more like texting terms, if anything else.

Small victories.

And those were the ones that mattered in the end, anyway. Besides, it was thanks to Kurt that he was filled in on all the Finn and Rachel drama. Admittedly Kurt had heard the story from Mercedes rather than watching the whole thing unfold, but that was better than nothing. Now he actually could rationalize his desire to punch Finn's face in, seeing how he had been the one to break things off.

He went back to California after Thanksgiving feeling only a little bit miserable that he hadn't been able to meet up with Rachel.

But maybe that was for the best. What kind of guy would that make him if he swooped in right after a big breakup, trying to make things better? Even if his intentions were admirable and he was perfectly content to have nothing more than friendship, that would probably do more harm than good.

He went back to obsessively facebook stalking Rachel between classes and studying for finals and rehearsals for the winter show. They were doing a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and he had amused both Kurt and Blaine one night after rehearsals by sending Kurt a picture of himself in costume as the ghost of Jacob Marley with the caption, "Do I get a prize for worst dressed?" Kurt had replied with a picture of himself and Blaine, their faces twisted with disgust.

It was an interesting friendship, the relationship between the three of them. Jesse genuinely liked both of them, but he knew that both had their own preconceived notions of him. To Blaine, he was the guy that beat them at Sectionals. To Kurt, he was the guy that broke Rachel's heart and beat them at Regionals. And somehow, he had managed to convince both of them that he really was being genuine.

It was probably the gay Hogwarts joke.

He'd have to call up Danny and thank him for that one. Danny had come to Carmel after going to Dalton for two years, telling anyone who would listen about how the school looked like a castle and how the uniforms were like something out of a Harry Potter movie and how, at Christmastime, mistletoe lined the hallways and everyone was sucking face with everyone else, regardless of the gender of their preferred sexual partner.

Totally gay Hogwarts.

He kept contact with the two even though finals week kept him busier than he had ever been in his life. It felt like he had slept on a Sunday, woken up on Monday, spent five whole days awake and cramming for his tests and drinking endless cups of coffee, and then suddenly it was Friday and his first semester at college was over. That was definitely going to take some getting used to.

He slept the entire flight home, and then had passed out on his bed for at least two days after that. His parents had called a doctor and everything. But he'd just laughed, shrugging it away and telling them that college is hard and that he'll be a pro at finals week in no time.

And then he'd driven out to McKinley to find Rachel.

Okay, in retrospect, not one of his better plans. It was really, really stupid of him to come to the school unannounced, but it's not like there were men guarding the doors so he couldn't get in. All he had to do was circle the school once looking for a cracked door and slip inside. Easy.

But coming unannounced meant he had absolutely no idea where everyone would be. He tried the choir room first, assuming that the glee club would be there rehearsing, but no such luck. Then he tried the auditorium and he had to give himself a high-five. The stage was decorated with artificial Christmas trees, all blue in color, lit with white lights with ornaments dangling off their branches artfully. It was beautiful, and Jesse felt his smile soften as he slipped into one of the seats at the back of the auditorium, hoping to get an explanation for the décor before he revealed himself.

He didn't have to wait long. A few members of the band came onstage, Rachel following closely at their heels, pointing to where they were to situate themselves. Jesse's heartbeat picked up at the sight of her, causing him to breathe a little shallower than was normal. It would have been mortifying if anyone had actually seen him.

Rachel looked beautiful, perfect from every angle, even at this distance. She looked even smaller, if that were possible, hair curled and shorter than he remembered. She wore a simple dress that framed her form and a red beret in her hair, no doubt pinned back and in place. She fit in with the Christmas trees and looked so at home on the stage that Jesse thought that maybe sitting here and watching her from the shadows would make up for the lackluster performance at Sectionals.

"Now remember, it has to be lush and romantic," Rachel told the nearest band member. Jesse straightened in his seat, but he didn't have to wait long to find out why Rachel was requesting such a song.

"Why?" Finn weaved his way through the trees, his height magnified by the way he was taller than all the little trees. Jesse almost laughed; their height difference certainly was comical enough.

"Because I'm very specific when I give a gift," Rachel explained, turning to Finn and muttering something about kittens. Jesse could tell she was nervous from the way she clasped her hands behind her back and the insecurity and plea for approval that was in her voice when she asked, "Do you like my winter wonderland?"

"I don't really like artificial Christmas trees. I like real ones," Finn started, and Jesse almost jumped up from where he sat to yell at the other boy. Didn't he realize what she was doing for him? Rachel didn't even celebrate Christmas, and here she had decked out the entire stage with trees just for him. And he had the nerve to complain that they weren't real. Jesse's hands clenched on the seat in front of him, gripping it so tightly it started to hurt, leaning forward and cringing as Finn continued to make excuses.

And now Rachel was giving the clueless boy a gift. The little box had an intricate bow on it, too, matching the hue of the Christmas trees. Rachel had clearly spent a lot of time planning this, color coordinating the entire thing while trying to ensure that it was something Finn would enjoy.

"The bearer of this note," Finn began to read, "is entitled to one song of Rachel Berry's choosing, sung to him or her with love."

Jesse wondered if he should leave. He was probably about to watch a vomit-inducing solo-turned-duet, having to bleach his brain afterwards to rid himself of the mental image of the two singing to each other. But as he watched, he realized that Finn wasn't interested in what Rachel had to say. He didn't care that she was sorry – for what, Jesse didn't know – or that she had put this all together for him. He left the auditorium, stuffing the gift back in her hands, leaving her alone onstage with the band members.

"Should we, like, leave?" the boy with the guitar asked, making Jesse want to leap up and punch him in the face. You never talk to a girl after she's been stormed out on. Not that quickly, anyway.

"No," Rachel decided. "Whether it's a heart attack or heartbreak, just like on Broadway, the show must go on."

"Now there's the attitude of a true performer," Jesse murmured to himself, grip on the chair in front of him slackening. A gentle, almost dopey, smile crossed his face as Rachel started singing to what she thought was an empty auditorium. He didn't miss the softened look of adoration the guitar player shot her way, either. He was observant like that.

Even though Finn had left and the song no longer had an intended recipient, Jesse still felt like he was intruding. This was Rachel's moment, the moment she hadn't had at Sectionals, and it wasn't fair of him to linger where he didn't belong. This song didn't belong to him, so why was he sitting here letting himself pretend that it did?

So he closed his eyes, letting Rachel's voice flow through his mind, swirling around him like the fake snow that was falling on the stage, tricking him into thinking that maybe she was singing to him. He swayed back and forth in time to the music, mind playing him out a scene where Rachel noticed him sitting back here and walked up to him, still singing, slowing the tempo of the song so he could join her. She would pull him up onstage with her, where they would sing together, his arms wrapped around her from behind, holding her close as the fake snow dusted their heads.

But that didn't happen. When Jesse opened his eyes at the close of the song, Rachel was still alone onstage with just the band members for company. She gave them a weak smile, which they interpreted as a goodbye, eyes darting back and forth across the snow-covered stage. He could hear the band members packing their instruments away and watched as Rachel wiped her eyes, posture straightening with an audible huff. She walked firmly from the auditorium, leaving it silent and deserted.

Jesse waited a full thirty seconds, then got up from his seat, walking up onto the stage. He walked through the little forest of artificial, blue trees, tapping a silver ball with his finger and listening to it brush against the needles as it swung back and forth. Then he walked over to the stool, re-opening the little box Rachel had given Finn. The note was still there.

He slipped it out of the box, folding it carefully and tucking it into his pocket before leaving the auditorium.

Everyone at Dalton Academy knew Blaine as that cool, suave guy who could talk his way out of any problem and could sing Disney better than any Disney hero in the history of Walt Disney's reign of terror.

Well, except for Wes and David.

They knew Blaine as the guy that tried to be suave and cool and somehow managed to worm out of anything if he tried hard enough and just so happened to have a voice that made people melt. And when he wasn't trying to be suave and cool, he was terribly skittish and nervous and it made Wes want to whack him upside the head with a gavel.

In fact, that was how the gavel had come to be an integral part of Warblers meetings. Until its introduction, Blaine would ramble on and on about every possible song they could do until someone finally managed to shut him up by either talking over him or making their disinterest so obvious that even he couldn't ignore it. The gavel was much more effective, and now they actually accomplished things in a timely manner.

But that was beside the point.

The point was that Blaine had been coming to Wes and David for advice ever since Kurt had transferred, wanting to know the best way to ease Kurt into a more-than-friends relationship, seeing how both Wes and David had managed to do just that with their current girlfriends. And even though Wes and David had all but drawn him out a pie chart with step-by-step instructions on the other side, Blaine still hadn't done anything about it.

"It's almost Christmas break," Blaine whined, coming into Wes and David's room uninvited and plopping himself down in his usual spot at the foot of Wes's bed.

"I know," David's voice was even and he was still looking down at his history textbook. Wes chose to ignore Blaine in favor of keeping up a facebook chat with his girlfriend.

"And I haven't told Kurt how I feel yet," Blaine elaborated on why this was such a oh-no-the-world-is-ending tragedy.

"That's nice," Wes said absently, as he typed the same thing into his chat with his girlfriend.

"No it's not!" Blaine covered his face with his hands. "We're about to go on break for two whole weeks, and who knows what will happen then? And besides, I heard one of the seniors talking about putting the mistletoe up tomorrow. And you two know how Dalton gets about mistletoe."

Wes and David looked up from their respective book and laptop, turning to make eye contact with each other for a split second before wincing in unison.

"We agreed never to speak of that ever again, Blaine," David reminded him. "Keep that sort of thing up and we won't help you."

"Come on, guys," Blaine pleaded. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Serenade him," Wes told his laptop. "That seemed to work well last time."

"What am I, a dog with only one trick?" Blaine rolled onto his stomach, taking up all of Wes's bed now, hands balling into fists on Wes's sheets.

"Yes, you are," Wes told his laptop again. "If your performances in here are anything to go off of." He laughed suddenly, saying, "Emma thinks you should just tell him how you feel."

"Right, because that won't scare him away or anything," Blaine started, but both Wes and David tuned him out. They'd heard this particular rant about fifteen times each. It was the one where Blaine explained how he was trying to be a gentleman, and gentlemen never come on too strong. They are always polite and subtle and let the other person set the mood. Gentlemen never took advantage.

And Wes and David knew better than to argue with determined-to-be-a-gentleman Blaine.

So they let him keep talking, neither one of them paying any attention to him. When he finished, he was slightly out of breath.

"That's nice," David said to his textbook serenely. "And tell us again why waiting for the mistletoe to go up and then accidentally stumbling under some with him was a bad idea, again?"

That particular rant always got Blaine way more fired up. He had this weird notion that Kurt didn't want to be kissed at all, by anyone, ever. So he would go off on a rant about it, talking about how kisses are sacred and giving one up so freely should be condemnable, and Wes and David just shook their heads, choosing not to remind Blaine how he had been running around last year, kissing everyone who so much as looked like he was about to stumble under mistletoe.

"Kelly says you should sing something together," David, who had started texting his girlfriend when history got boring, held up his phone, breaking off Blaine's rant.

The abrupt silence made Wes look away from his laptop, eyes going from Blaine to David then back to Blaine, asking, "What did you do to him?"

"I gave him a new idea," David said smugly. "Pity you never thought of that, huh Wesbot?"

"I've given him plenty of ideas," Wes crossed his arms. "What did you tell him this time, then?"

"I told him to sing with Kurt rather than at Kurt," David shrugged. "Well, Kelly did." He held up his phone again.

Before Wes or David realized what was going on, Blaine had made a grab for David's phone, wrenching it out of his hands and pressing and holding the number three. He had a manic glint in his eye that they had only seen once before, and that had been when he had been plotting to ask out his ex-boyfriend. David grunted in protest, standing up in an attempt to re-claim his phone, but Blaine danced out of reach, finger in one ear and phone pressed against the other.

"Hi, Kelly!" he said enthusiastically. "Yeah, sorry to surprise you like that." David and Wes rolled their eyes. No way was Blaine actually sorry. "Yeah, David just told me about that idea. Any song suggestions? Because I'm thinking that just might work."

"He's so grabby when he wants something," Wes commented, scooting his chair closer to David's and watching as Blaine started pacing the room. He had removed the finger from his ear and was now tugging at the curls escaping from their gelled hold behind his ear.

"And he's even doing the hair thing," David noticed. "You know it's serious when he does the hair thing. He hasn't done the hair thing since he asked Sam out."

"That was a fun time," Wes groaned, covering his face with his hands. "I think the entirety of Dalton was suffering from a case of secondhand embarrassment by the time he finally asked that boy out. At least this time the feelings are mutual."

"They were mutual with Sam, too," David reminded him.

"But Blaine didn't know that," Wes was now practically kneading his forehead. "Poor guy spent at least three whole days making up a chart and putting every single idiosyncrasy Sam had under 'gay' or 'straight.' Remember?"

"I'm pretty sure I still have that somewhere," David looked over to their closet, which was practically spilling over with junk. "He wanted to pitch it after the successful seduction of Sam Evans, but I stole it. Think of it as collateral in case he ever does something to one of us."

"You know I can hear you, right?" Blaine shot them both an annoyed look, still on the phone with Kelly.

"Your point being?"

Blaine flipped them off.

"Use that finger to read your Bible, sir," Wes quoted back, remembering the story Blaine had told them about the rather zealous protestor at a pride parade he had attended last summer. David chuckled and Blaine just glared at them. Wes smiled innocently, though he and David were totally high-fiving behind their backs. They were good at sneaky high-fives.

"Thanks, Kelly, you've been a huge help," Blaine said into the phone, smiling sweetly even though Kelly wasn't in the room to see it. "Yeah, I'll tell him to call you back later. Bye." He tossed the phone back to David, saying, "Your girl wants you to call her back in an hour. Family dinner time."

"You dick, you hogged all our pre-dinner time," David launched himself at Blaine, putting him in a headlock and mussing the boy's hair until it no longer had any sense of style to it. "I'm just kidding; you know I don't really care."

"Yeah, you say that after you're done messing up my hair," Blaine put a hand on his head, trying to flatten the curls.

"Shut up, you look better like that," Wes insisted. "Less like a smarm ball and more like a dork. Trust me, it's an improvement."

Blaine flipped them off again, other hand going to tug on the hair behind his ear again.

"Oh shit, he must really be invested in this cause, David," Wes said, going into a mock-thinking pose. ""Look at him. Hair thing again and the constant misuse of his middle finger? He's terrified that this will go wrong."

"No, it's all going to be fine," Blaine said to himself more than the other two, starting to pace again. "I'll sing the duet with Kurt and then afterwards I'll tell him how I feel and he'll be so in the moment that he'll tell me that he feels the same way and – hang on, what if he doesn't and he only says it because he's in the moment?"

Wes and David collectively groaned. Then David stood up and slapped Blaine across the face.

"Stop it," he ordered, towering over the smaller boy, even though he really wasn't all that much taller. "Get a grip. Jesus, Blaine, it's not like you're asking a straight boy to have gay sex with you. You're trying to tell a boy who's smitten with you that you feel the same."

Blaine didn't even try to argue that point like he normally did. He just put a hand on his cheek, pouting and saying, "You hit me."

"You deserved it," Wes piped up.

It took Blaine a full ten minutes to pick up the boom box.

Then it took him fifteen more to actually go into the room where Kurt was studying.

He was just really nervous, okay? Which was totally normal when you're about to go sing a duet with the boy you're completely head-over-heels for. So the jittery butterflies were to be expected, and the sweaty palms were nothing to worry about, even if it did mean that he was switching the boom box from one hand to the other every minute or so.

Steeling himself, he walked into the room, expression softening immediately upon seeing Kurt. He was bent low over the desk, reading one of his textbooks with such concentration that he hadn't even noticed Blaine coming in. He set the boom box down harder than he had anticipated, making Kurt jump.

"Hey," his voice sounded loud, and it wasn't just because of the high ceilings and the vastness of the room.

"You scared me," Kurt's voice sounded breathless, but he didn't look annoyed. In fact, he had straightened up in his seat, clouds of worry completely gone from his face. Now he was curious, obviously wondering why Blaine had decided to come interrupt his homework.

"Well, good, 'cause I'm actually Marley's ghost," Blaine found himself saying, his mind somehow remembering that stupid picture Jesse had sent Kurt a while back, "and I'm here to tell you to stop studying so hard." What possessed him to whisper it and walk forward like he was balancing on a tightrope, he didn't know, but it got a smile out of Kurt. Question answered, probably. He took the seat opposite Kurt right as the other boy asked, "What's with the boom box?"

His tongue moved of its own accord, not saying his planned speech ("Remember how you told me about that duets competition back at McKinley? Well, I've been thinking, and I think that it's about time you got a proper duet with a boy. Shall we?") but instead blurting out, "I need you to sing with me."

And then his tongue took a giant leap ahead of his brain and he was suddenly telling Kurt a bullshit story about how he was singing a duet in the King's Island Christmas Spectacular, which would have been true if he had told Kurt this four years ago. Four years ago before he had been at Dalton and was still far enough in denial enough to ask a pretty girl in his grade to sing a Christmas duet with him, thinking that maybe upping his exposure to intimacy might do the trick.

Thankfully it hadn't and the girl had been quite lovely about it when he had confessed that he didn't really like her after all.

But what made him say that now? He didn't know. He'd have to have a stern talking-to with his tongue later that evening. Well, that or he would just drink scalding hot chocolate and burn himself as a punishment.

"A personal favorite," Kurt was smiling, though, so that had to count for something. "Too bad they'd never let us sing it together, though."

The frown that creased his face had nothing to do with confusion at Kurt's words, though that's how the other boy interpreted it. It was confusion as to why Kurt thought they wouldn't be allowed to perform the song together. Well, maybe not here, admittedly, but one day when they both ran away to big cities full of acceptance and people like them, they could sing it all they wanted. But rather than tell Kurt all about his rather unrealistic and slightly stalker-ish daydreams about the pair of them eloping to Iowa, he just made a noise of understanding and asked, "So you gonna help me out here?"

"Anything to get me to stop reading about Charlemagne."

"Very good, then," he closed Kurt's book for him, already standing up to turn on the music. He didn't trust himself to keep talking any longer. He just needed to get the music on, now, and hope that Kurt would be able to see through this shaky and completely false pretense. Because, really, Blaine could have gone to any of the boys to rehearse, and he picks Kurt? Hopefully Kurt would think something of that, at least.

He started the music, doing a couple shuffling dance steps towards Kurt, gesturing for him to start the song. And when he did, Blaine felt all pretenses fade away. It didn't matter how he had gotten Kurt to sing the song. All that mattered was the two of them singing the song together. And he was going to milk it for all it was worth.

He let his voice linger subtly on the terms of endearment throughout the song, eyes locked on Kurt for almost the entire time. The boy was a whole new person when he performed – and Blaine meant really performed, not singing washed-out versions of Broadway showstoppers in an attempt to land a solo. But then, maybe this wasn't really a performance, because there was nothing fake about the way he was singing, so maybe there was nothing fake about the way Kurt was singing either.

And the other boy really seemed to be having a good time. He danced around the room, letting Blaine chase him, catch up with him, then chase him again. His voice had a coyness to it that made something shift in Blaine's stomach. (Though it was probably just the jittery butterflies again.) The way Kurt shied away from eye contact and the way his cheeks were flushed told Blaine that this did mean something to him. If the way his cheeks flared redder than before when Blaine caught his arm, spun him in, and sang, "Ooh, your lips are delicious," with his breath ghosting across Kurt's lips was anything to go off of, there was definitely a mutual attraction.

Kurt was positively glowing by the time they collapsed on the sofa together, still lost in the moment of the song as they looked at each other. He was smiling, too, and not one of those tight-lipped smiles that he had perfected. This was the kind of smile that he only used when he wasn't thinking about it. This was his I'm-so-happy-that-I-don't-even-care-that-you-can-see-my-teeth-for-once smile, the kind that Blaine loved best.

They blinked and broke eye contact in unison, both looking away from the other as a little nervous cough worked its way up from Blaine's throat. He forced himself to keep his hands away from the hair behind his ear, looking back at Kurt as the boy said, "I think you're ready."

His smile faded slightly as he remembered that stupid, idiotic, bullshit story he had used as a cover. All hopes of them being caught in the moment and forgetting the pretenses were abandoned, and Blaine looked away, not entirely sure how this was supposed to segue into him telling Kurt that he might be kind of in love with him.

"Well, for the record," he said, giving a little sigh and standing up, "you are much better than that girl's gonna be." He winked as he moved around the sofa to pick up the boom box, wondering frantically if there was any way to salvage this failed plan. He almost set the boom box back down, ready to confess the whole thing, but there was suddenly a man at the door. Blaine recognized him as New Directions' director, but that didn't explain why he was here, two hours away from McKinley, at Dalton coming into this room right as he was about to confess his undying, rainbow-covered, Disney love.

But Blaine was still a gentleman, so he smiled at the man, continuing in his trek towards the door, muttering a polite, "Hi," which the man returned. As soon as he was out of the man's line of sight, his face darkened. Great timing, McKinley man. Thanks a lot. He set the boom box down on one of the tables lining the hallway, leaning his head back against the wall and doing one of those pathetic, clichéd, slow-motion slide-down-the-wall things that you see in every chick flick ever.

He could hear Kurt laughing with the man in there, both clearly happy to see each other. Blaine felt bitter and upset and he half-wanted to listen in on a conversation where Kurt chewed the man out for not standing up for him back at McKinley, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. This man had just driven two hours just to see Kurt, and even if there was resentment, Kurt wasn't the type to give him a hard time.

"Good to see you, Kurt," the man said, and Blaine could hear the smile in his voice. Then, "Someone special?"

Blaine's ears were suddenly hyper-sensitive to noise. There was a weird buzzing in his head and the jittery butterflies from before were probably engaging in a re-enactment of the Civil War or something, because it was almost painful. And since when had the heating vent been so noisy?

"No, just a friend," Kurt all but sighed, and Blaine's eyes closed, head drooping to rest on his knees. "But on the upside, I'm in love with him and he's actually gay. Call that progress."

It took every ounce of self-restraint that Blaine had to not burst back into the room, grab Kurt, and eat his face.

Instead, he somehow managed to stand up, pick up the boom box, and walk silently down the hall, grinning so wide that it was physically painful. When he reached the end of the hallway and turned down towards the main entrance, he started running.

Blaine threw the doors open, bursting out of the building and skipping through the snow, feeling so lighthearted that he could probably start flying if he tried hard enough. He started humming the chorus to A Wonderful Guy as he skipped back towards his dorm building, actually breaking into the chorus once he was inside.

One of the seniors was standing on a stepladder, putting up sprigs of mistletoe. Blaine danced past him, not even stopping to give an explanation for his behavior, singing the entire way up to his room.

"Get her a tracksuit with a fur-lined hood for winter," Kurt suggested, knowing that Mr. Schuester wasn't going to be able to come up with anything better than that.

"That is a fantastic idea," Schue beamed at him. "Thanks, Kurt."

The conversation stalled for a few seconds, and Kurt was suddenly fixed with a desire to ask the question that had been bothering him since Mr. Schuester had entered the room.

"Mr. Schuester, did you really drive all the way to Westerville just for shopping advice? Not that I'm not pleased to see you, it's just that, for your own sake and the sake of your gas tank, I think an email might have been a better idea."

"It would," Schue shrugged in that annoyingly quirky way of his, "except that I was hoping I could also talk with the Warblers' director. Regionals isn't even in Ohio this year, and I was thinking that we could save costs by travelling together. We can all fit on one bus, so why not just start in Lima, drive through Westerville to pick you all up, and then continue on from there?"

"That is an excellent idea," Kurt nodded. "Unfortunately the Warblers don't have a director, as you may have noticed from the lack of anyone over the age of eighteen onstage with us at Sectionals."

"Ah, I was wondering why there was nobody there with you," Schue looked embarrassed.

"Oh, don't worry," Kurt wasn't about to leave the man feeling like a complete fool for coming all the way out here with only a track suit to show for it. "The Warblers have a council instead, and I know just where they'll be."

"A council?" Schue's eyebrows raised. Kurt smiled, ushering him towards the door.

"It's not as scary as it sounds," he started, but then he shook his head, laughing and saying, "Well, they can be when they want to be. Just don't give Wes any reason to smack his gavel and you'll be just fine."

Jesse was really crossing the line. It was one thing to look at someone's facebook wall, curious to see if anything had changed since he had snooped in the auditorium, but it was another thing entirely to show up at a Christmas tree lot just because Rachel's status had read, "picking out a tree for the Glee club with Finn. ;)"

He managed to convince himself it was okay because somebody had to look out for Rachel, right?

He spotted the pair of them walking through the main aisle separating the two different types of trees. He hung off to the left, not wanting to be spotted. Well, not yet, at least. He wondered if this meant things were better between Rachel and Finn and, if so, he was about to witness a very couple-y tree shopping experience.

That wasn't the case, he learned very quickly. Not only had Finn shrugged Rachel off his arm, but he had even made a tactless comment about the weather to go along with it. Jesse smacked his forehead with his palm, not quite sure who he was more embarrassed for.

In any case, Finn had clearly forgotten that Rachel didn't celebrate Christmas. He was too engaged in the hunt for a tree to remember that this was probably Rachel's first time going tree shopping and that it took a lot of confidence in your own beliefs to even consider helping someone else with theirs.

"Oh, I love this song," Rachel exclaimed as the music went from traditional to modern. "It's my favorite Christmas song. It's Wham." Jesse's face softened and his head cocked to one side slightly. Rachel would have a favorite Christmas song. He could just picture her listening to Christmas albums during the holidays, skipping over the ones with more religious meaning in favor for the ones that she could enjoy without twinges of guilt for singing about a Savior she didn't believe in.

But Finn was ruining the moment again. Couldn't he understand that Rachel wanted to sing with him? Jesse's softened look hardened again and he shook his head as Finn suggested they go their separate ways and meet up at the end. This boy clearly didn't understand the pull of music, the overwhelming desire to lift your voice and hear it ring through the cold, crisp air.

The music seemed to swell as Rachel and Finn parted, even though it was coming from the beat-up speakers over next to the sign advertising the trees and nobody had gone over to turn it up. Jesse quickly ducked behind a tree at the end of the row, watching as Rachel began walking down the little aisle, singing along with the song.

"Last Christmas I gave you my heart, then the very next day you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special." She was turned away from Jesse, even though he was lingering only one tree over, looking at Finn as he ran his hand through the branches of another tree.

Impulse control had never really been one of Jesse's strong points.

He jumped out from behind the tree, joining her for the next line. She jumped and her voice faded away, turning to look at him with her eyes wide. He continued the song, singing, "I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye," with newfound meaning, smiling softly and reaching out with one hand to brush her cheek. She shied away from his touch, but he continued singing, withdrawing his hand back to his side, "Tell me, baby, do you recognize me? Well, it's been a year, it doesn't surprise me."

Rachel took a few steps backwards, one of her mittened hands curling around the branch of a tree. She stared at him, clearly still shocked to see him there. Rather than let that worry him, Jesse kept singing.

"I wrapped it up and sent it with a note saying, 'I love you.' I meant it."

Rachel took a step forward, joining in for, "Now I know what a fool I've been, but if you kissed me now, I know you'd fool me again."

They continued into the chorus, Jesse staying where he was and Rachel slowly moving to meet him. He held out his hands to her, and she took them, her mittens soft on his bare fingers that were sensitive from the cold. There was a genuine smile on her face now, too, looking up at him with more of a pleasantly surprised expression, as opposed to the shock that had once been there.

There was scattered applause when the song finally ended. Jesse looked away from Rachel, momentarily distracted, the sea of evergreen having made him forget that they weren't alone.

"Just like the first time we met," he murmured as he leaned down to give her a hug.

"Jesse," she returned the hug. He held her there for a few moments longer than necessary, one hand splayed out across her back and the other curling around her waist. He had been right; she was definitely smaller.

When they broke apart, he took a moment to really look at her. Aside from the obvious physical changes, Rachel seemed more timid and weak, not at all like the strong-willed girl he had left behind.

"It's good to see you," he told her, offering her his arm.

"Cuddle weather," she breathed, latching on. "I-I mean, you too."

"I hope you will find it in the spirit of the season to be forgiving, even though my apology is long overdue," Jesse smiled down at her fondly. "I should never have cracked that egg on your head. I'm sorry for what I, and my teammates, did to you."

"Thank you," her voice was hushed. "I appreciate it."

"So tell me," he said conversationally, "what brings you out to a Christmas tree lot? Last I checked, you were the kind of girl who lit candles on a menorah."

"Still am," Rachel giggled, pressing closer to him. "But the Glee club decorated a beautiful tree and then it was completely trashed. As captain, I felt it was my duty to repair the damage, so I asked Finn to come pick out a new tree with me."

"Speaking of whom, where is he?" Jesse looked around, wondering where the taller boy had run off to. It wasn't like he could be hiding anywhere; he was taller than most of the trees by a good three inches.

"There he is." One of Rachel's hands left Jesse's arm as she pointed. Finn was standing at the end of the lot, not paying any attention to the trees or to them. In fact, he was looking out at the parking lot.

"Finn!" Jesse called, raising his free arm in a wave. "Hi!" Finn turned, and Jesse didn't miss the way he masked his frown with a clearly fake double-take. He walked over to the pair of them, fixing a smile on his face.

"Hi, Jesse," he didn't sound pleased to see him.

"How've you been?" Jesse asked, more for the sake of politeness than anything else. Finn gave a noncommittal grunt and shrugged one shoulder. He looked pointedly at Rachel, saying, "I think we should go."

"But we haven't found a tree yet!" Rachel protested. "What sort of leaders are we if we fail the rest of the team?"

"None of these are good enough," Finn waved an arm. Jesse could tell he was lying. "Let's just go look somewhere else." He started for the parking lot, but Rachel stayed where she was, tucked neatly into Jesse's side.

"You should go with him," Jesse told her. "If you let him buy a tree on his own, they'll charge him twice what it's actually worth."

"Will I get to see you again before you go back to California?" Rachel asked, holding onto his arm a little tighter.

"Call me tonight," Jesse started to lead her over to where Finn was waiting. "Tell me about your adventure getting a tree for the glee club." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

"Okay," Rachel smiled up at him, letting go of his arm. "It really is good to see you, Jesse."

"See you soon," he promised, watching her go.

Kurt was more than a little confused when he woke up to a text message from Jesse St. James.

Want to help me get a Christmas tree into McKinley?

He had only been home for roughly twelve hours, too, he realized when he was awake enough to register what time it was. Cursing Jesse and his newfound love of early-morning text messages, Kurt dutifully replied, telling Jesse that he would be able to help once he had enough caffeine in his system to function properly.

And that was how he ended up in the passenger seat of Jesse's car, singing along with the radio with a rather exquisite tree tied to the roof.

"So, tell my why exactly we're bringing them a tree?" Kurt asked as they pulled into the parking lot.

"Because Rachel and Finn didn't," Jesse turned into the nearest parking space. "They were tree-shopping last night and I decided to make an appearance. Finn did not take too kindly to this, so they left empty-handed."

"What did you do?" Kurt asked as a reflex.

"Apart from singing a completely lovely and innocent duet with one Rachel Berry? Absolutely nothing."

"I really shouldn't laugh," Kurt said through a giggle.

"Then stop laughing," Jesse teased him, turning the car off and reaching over him to get a pair of scissors out of the glove compartment. "Ready for the heavy lifting?"

"I wore old clothes," Kurt reminded Jesse, looking down at his carefully chosen outfit. He had chosen outfit pieces that didn't fit him properly anymore, wearing a pair of jeans that were a bit loose and a shirt that was just the tiniest bit too snug. To anyone else looking, they fit him perfectly, but Kurt was very particular about his clothes.

"Right." He could tell Jesse wasn't buying that answer, but they got out of the car anyway, cutting the tree loose and carrying it together towards the school.

"You still haven't told me why exactly you're doing this," Kurt told him as he held the door open, watching as Jesse hoisted the tree through the doorway all on his own. "And now you also have to tell me how you got so strong."

"Trees aren't that heavy," Jesse waited for him to pick up his end of the tree again before moving down the hallway. "And I'm doing a favor for my old club. Is that illegal?"

"I feel like a prodigal son," Kurt confessed, watching the choir room get closer. "Jesse St. James and Kurt Hummel, the two men who abandoned New Directions in their time of need, returning bearing the gift of a freshly cut pine tree."

"We sound like epic heroes when you put it that way," Jesse beamed at him.

They hovered outside the door for a while, listening to what was going on inside. It took Kurt about two seconds to recognize the beginning of one of Mr. Schuester's motivational speeches.

"It's one of his many failed psych up speeches," he whispered to Jesse. "I say we wait until he says something either really stupid or really enlightening and then we go in."

The ended up getting bored, so they just went in when they heard Schue say "magic."

"Did someone say magic?" Kurt asked, grinning cockily and looking behind him to see Jesse's expression mirroring his.

"We come bearing a freshly cut pine tree," Jesse echoed Kurt's earlier words, "as a gift from your two prodigal sons."

"I told you he was Mr. Schuester's son!" Brittany exclaimed, pointing at Jesse with a huge smile on her face.

Brittany's comment seemed to validate the fact that they really were standing in the choir room with a Christmas tree, and, as one, the club launched themselves at the two boys. Puck and Sam took the tree from them, bringing it over to where Mike was setting up the stand. Rachel flung her arms around Jesse's neck and he twirled her around in the air, feet dangling off the ground. Mercedes crushed Kurt into a hug of her own, already starting on a tirade for not telling her he was home.

"To be fair, I've only been home for about fifteen hours," Kurt told her. "And blame Jesse; he's the one that texted me at way-too-early o'clock to ask if I wanted to spread some Christmas cheer."

"So wait, what was going on in here anyway?" Jesse asked, finally setting Rachel back down on her feet. He pointed over to their seats, where seven pairs of scissors lay forgotten. "What's with the scissors?"

"We were going to cut off our hair and sell it to raise money for homeless children," Quinn answered him. "Thank God Mr. Schuester came in to stop us." Her fingers curled around her ponytail, adding, "I still don't think I could pull it off."

"What would possess you to do something that stupid?" Kurt asked, trying and failing to contain his laughter.

"It worked in Gift of the Magi," Sam told him, shrugging.

"So what are you going to do instead?" Jesse asked, his arms snaking around Rachel's waist from behind.

"We're going caroling," Mr. Schuester announced, much to the chagrin of the club. They let out moans of displeasure and Kurt heard Mercedes mutter, "Because that worked so well last time."

"No, come on, hear me out, guys," Schue raised his voice slightly. "We won't go to the classrooms. Instead, we'll go to the teachers' lounge. You'll definitely get a better reception in there." He turned to Kurt and Jesse, addressing them both, "You two are welcome to join us if you'd like."

Kurt said, "Totally," at the same time Jesse said, "Definitely."

However, the next day when Kurt was handed a hideously colored sweater with a snowflake on it, he almost backed out. It didn't match his outfit at all and it made him ache for the scratchy Dalton uniform sweater vests.

"Just put it on," Rachel all but shoved one of the sleeves on his arm. "Jesse's being a good sport about it."

"But Jesse's happiness isn't dependent on his entire outfit being color-coordinated," Kurt snapped back. "He just throws on black everything and calls it a day."

"I resent that," Jesse shot back, pulling back the sweater to show off his cream-colored shirt paired with a green vest. "Does any of this look black to you?"

"So you've branched out since last year. Congratulations." Kurt rolled his eyes, but then he winked and allowed his other arm to be stuffed into the sweater. If he was being honest, it was nice feeling a sense of unity with his old glee club. Even though Dalton had knocked any preconceived notions about uniforms equaling uniformity out of his head, it was still nice to match.

He and Jesse stood on either side of Rachel during their performance – which they did not at all use to their advantage to snicker at each other during Finn's speech – all three of them holding hands and reveling in just how normal this all felt. For someone who had all but fled the school a month ago, it was incredible just how relaxed Kurt felt knowing he was safe with his friends. Jesse being there just went to show how much a person can change if you give them a second chance, and the fact that Rachel was holding his hand made him realize just how much he himself had changed since leaving McKinley.

He no longer took his relationships at face-value, that was for sure.

The only thing that could have made things better would be having Blaine standing on his other side, holding his other hand. But Kurt wasn't about to go all hearts-in-eyes over his absentee best friend. He had three best friends here with him now, even if one of them had ended up being situated on the other side of the room, and he was reveling in their presence.

It was as if nothing had changed since last year and Jesse really had been true to his word all along. And even though Kurt wasn't about to admit it, a small part of him wished that this was how his life had turned out. Gay kid at McKinley, surrounded by friends who loved him, without the knowledge that his main tormenter was secretly lusting after penises just as much as he was.

Of course, everything happened for a reason, and Kurt was slowly managing to convince himself that the reason was Blaine. Well, that and challenging courses that would look more than excellent on his college applications, securing him a spot at his top three so long as he kept those marks up.

But regardless, the nostalgia was overwhelming.

A couple teachers even came up to him to ask how he was doing after they had finished singing. Sue had given him the thumbs-up from the doorway before disappearing, and Coach Beiste had clapped him on the back, telling him that it was nice to see him back, even if it was only for the day.

When they all moved back to the choir room to find Artie out of his chair, Kurt couldn't have asked for a more perfect Christmas. He was back with his friends, even if a certain Dalton Warbler was missing from this near-perfect picture, and he had just witnessed the closest thing to a miracle he had ever seen. When he turned his back to wipe his eyes, he noticed Coach Beiste looking in through the window, her usually stony expression replaced by something much warmer.

Kurt made eye contact with the woman and she held a finger to her lips. Kurt smiled and winked back, shaking his head a little and wondering how a woman with such a large heart could be seen as anything other than beautiful.

He called Blaine that evening, telling him all about what had happened.

"I want to meet Coach Beiste sometime," Blaine told him, and Kurt could hear the smile in Blaine's voice. "From the sounds of things, she's the best educator at McKinley."

"She really is," Kurt mused, pursing his lips as he thought about it. "It's a shame I didn't have her for gym class. She probably would have let me play volleyball with the girls."

Kurt heard Blaine chuckle, then sigh, and then out of nowhere the other boy said, "I miss you."

"It's been two days," Kurt reminded him.

"Oh, God, I sound so clingy," Blaine groaned. Kurt could picture him with a hand over his eyes, embarrassed by his outburst. "Forget I said anything."

"I miss you too," Kurt said quietly. They were both silent for a few seconds. Kurt wondered if he should just blurt out how he felt over the phone, but managed to talk himself out of it very quickly. This wasn't how he wanted to have that particular conversation.

"Can I visit you over break?" Blaine asked, killing the silence.

"I'd like that," Kurt felt a warm tickling in his stomach.

"I like that you'd like that," Blaine said in a sing-song voice.

"Well, I like you," Kurt shot back, giggling.

"I like you more," Blaine countered.

"Yeah, you probably do," Kurt said coyly, still giggling.

The way they were able to hold back-and-forth banter somehow just felt right to Kurt. It truly was the missing element from most love stories, and that was why he had fallen so hard for Blaine. While Blaine was able to be serious and show Kurt that he cared, he was also able to pick fun at little things that he knew Kurt wouldn't get upset about, and he let Kurt pick on him in return. They teased each other and were comfortable enough to know there was no harm in doing so.

That was what a healthy relationship looked like, Kurt had decided. He just needed to find out whether Blaine was as willing as he was to add the term 'boyfriends' into the mix.

"I should go," Blaine sounded reluctant. "My dad's setting up for his annual office karaoke party and they always rope me into singing. Best go down and get it over with now, yeah?"

"Sounds like fun," Kurt was grinning. "What kind of music do they have you sing?"

"On a good day they just make me do a couple Christmas songs and call it a night. On a bad day, they hand me a book of Christmas Carol mad-libs and make me sing those. That's normally the years where my dad breaks out the alcohol early."

"Your dad sounds amazing."

"He kind of is. I think our dads would get along."

"They better." Since I'm planning on marrying you as soon as I figure out how to tell you I love you.

"Bye, Kurt."

"Bye, Blaine."

He had hardly put down his phone when the screen lit up, telling him he had a text from Santana.

Coach Sylvester wants all of us at Schue's house tomorrow night at 7. Be there.

Jesse hated being stuck in the middle. Once you were the odd man out, you stayed the odd man out until someone else arrived to keep you company or someone else left, leaving one person without a conversation partner.

Unfortunately for him, the only available conversation partner was currently being fawned over by her proud parents. Not that baby Beth would have been able to hold much of a conversation at all. She just sat there and blinked at him, usually. The time when he'd played peek-a-boo with her and she had giggled and clapped had been particularly satisfying, though.

So he sat in the middle of the couch, trying to figure out which conversation he should eavesdrop on, because there really wasn't anything else for him to do.

"She's so beautiful," Puck breathed, reaching down into the playpen to brush his hand across Beth's mop of golden curls.

Jesse switched to Shelby and Rachel. Puck had been saying just how beautiful Beth was for the last two hours. Straight.

"…made me realize just how important it is for biological parents to be involved in their child's life," Shelby was saying, one of her hands resting on Rachel's knee. "I've decided I want an open adoption. Noah and Quinn can come visit and be a part of Beth's life. I'm just sorry it took all my mistakes with you to realize that."

Jesse decided that this conversation was much more interesting.

"I was wrong, Rachel," Shelby continued. "I thought that I had lost something by meeting you when you were already all grown up, but I gained so much more than I thought. And while I don't regret meeting you, I regret the circumstances that brought us together and my actions following that meeting. It wasn't fair to you, and I'm sorry."

Rachel was silent, and Jesse could see the wheels in her head turning. This was what she had always wanted. Her mom wanted her now, but she still had all those painful memories of the times her mom hadn't been there and, more recently, what her mom had done once she had been there.

"So I know you're busy with school and glee club, but what do you say: bi-weekly Corcoran girls outing?"

"I'd like that," Rachel admitted, smiling and nodding. "I'd like that a lot."

And then their conversation was abruptly really boring, because it had turned into a round of catch-up. So Jesse turned back to Puck and Quinn, listening in on them instead and hoping that Puck was about to break his broken record status.

"She really is, isn't she?" Quinn was murmuring, which could only mean Puck had just said once again how beautiful Beth was. Jesse almost regretted not keeping a tally.

"I know we couldn't have kept her," Puck started saying, his voice so quiet that Jesse had to angle his ear just right to be able to hear, "but I still regret giving her up."

"I do too," Quinn admitted. "But we can't be parents. Neither of us were, or are, ready for that kind of commitment. If you had kept her, she might not have been in good hands right now. They'd have taken her away when you got sent to juvie."

"You could've taken care of her," Puck rationalized, but Quinn laid a hand on his arm, shaking her head.

"It doesn't work like that. It couldn't have worked like that. It's better this way."

"So are we supposed to just act like this never happened now?" Puck's voice had something almost threatening in it. "Because I want to take Shelby up on that offer. I want to come visit my daughter and be a part of her life."

"I do too," Quinn echoed her earlier confession. "I'm not ready to be a mom, but I am ready to let my daughter in." She smiled up at Puck, her entire face lighting up and her eyes sparkling. Jesse couldn't remember ever seeing such a beautiful smile on Quinn's face.

"For what it's worth," Puck leaned down and spoke into Quinn's hair, meaning that Jesse had to shift closer to them in order to keep eavesdropping, "I still care about you. I know you're with Sam and that it doesn't change anything, but what I said at the hospital still stands."

Quinn swallowed thickly, her hands on Puck's arms, guiding him further away from Jesse and Beth. It was clear that she didn't want anyone to overhear them, so Jesse took that as his cue to go play with the baby. He picked Beth up out of her playpen, sitting back down on the sofa with her perched on his knee.

"Hey you," he said, his voice light and sing-song. "How's everyone's favorite little girl, huh?" He bounced his knee gently, watching Beth's face light up. He made silly faces at her and she reached forward, hitting him on the nose and giggling.

Playing with a baby definitely beat out eavesdropping.

"So be honest. What's your opinion on New Year's kisses?"

Kurt frowned at his phone, shaking his head before he answered.

"I think they're cheesy and overrated and are incapable of having any underlying emotion whatsoever," he said honestly, disappearing into his closet for a moment, searching for the perfect sweater to go with his chosen outfit. He had Blaine on speaker while he searched, and he had to admit that Blaine was being a very good sport about listening to his rambling about which belt would look best.

"Really?" He could picture Blaine raising an eyebrow. "And here I thought you'd be the type to appreciate such frivolous gestures of affection."

"Nope," Kurt announced, emerging from the closet with not one, but three sweaters draped over his arm. "I mean, if it's an established couple who care for one another, then great. But random kisses just for the sake of having a New Year's kiss? Pointless." He paused, then asked, "Why, are you about to tell me about some random stranger you kissed last year?"

"No," Blaine laughed. "I was asking because I was planning on sneaking into your house right as the ball drops tonight and kissing you to confess my undying love and affection. But since you've nixed that idea, I guess I'll have to come up with a better idea."

Kurt dropped his sweaters, gaping at his phone as if Blaine himself had just somehow crawled through it into his room.

"Kurt?" Blaine's voice asked, sounding worried.

"I'm sorry, what was that last bit?" Kurt asked.

"You mean the part about me kissing you to confess my undying love and affection?"

"Yeah, that part," Kurt snatched up his phone, turning Blaine off speaker and holding it close to his ear. This conversation had suddenly become that much more intimate. "I hardly think this is a conversation we should be having over the phone."

"I know," Blaine agreed. "And I had been meaning to time this all perfectly so that I'm walking down the stairs to your bedroom right as I said that, but the jittery butterflies in my stomach decided to make me puke out my feelings too early. I've only just passed the 'Welcome to Lima' sign."

Kurt couldn't help himself. He started laughing, falling backwards onto his bed and curling up into a little ball, laughing so hard that it hurt. His stomach clenched up and he gasped for breath, unable to catch it and unable to believe that Blaine had just confessed to loving him, and over the phone while he drove to Lima, no less.

"Well, that was hardly the reaction I was looking for," Blaine admitted.

"And this was hardly the conversation I expected to have when you called," Kurt said when he was able to speak again.

"So are you going to leave me hanging and wondering if I should turn back around, or are you going to tell me that you feel the same way?" Blaine asked, clearly smiling like a fool.

"I don't confess my feelings over the phone," Kurt told him, a coy note sneaking into his voice. "You'll just have to drive faster – but not too fast, the roads are icy – and hope that I'm actually at my house so you can see me in person." And then he hung up, switching his phone off so Blaine couldn't call back.

And then he tore through his entire room, trying to figure out which sweater would look best with this outfit, knowing that now it actually did matter. He finally settled on a navy one that reminded him of Dalton's chosen colors, figuring it was appropriate. Then he launched himself up the stairs, gluing his nose to the window while he waited for Blaine to get there.

The second Blaine's car turned down the street, Kurt bolted. He threw open the front door, running up the driveway and not caring that it was snowing and freezing and that he wasn't dressed for this weather. Blaine's car pulled messily up along the sidewalk and Blaine himself jumped out of the driver's side door, not even bothering to close the door or turn the car off. He tripped over a pile of snow on his way out, covering his front with the white powder, but Kurt didn't care and it seemed that Blaine didn't either.

But when they reached each other, Kurt held Blaine away, looking him in the eyes and saying, "Tell me again."

"I love you," Blaine told him, his cheeks flushed with color that wasn't just from the cold. "Now will you say it back?"

"I love you," Kurt echoed, the words rolling off his tongue easily. It felt so good to say it that he actually giggled, pulling Blaine in and crushing him in a tight hug. He could feel the snow on Blaine's front seeping into his sweater, but he just hung on tightly, giggling again when Blaine lifted him off his feet and buried his face in his neck.

"It doesn't count as cheesy and stupid and New Years-y if I kiss you now, does it?" Blaine asked, his lips moving against Kurt's neck in a way that made Kurt's entire body respond to their touch, pressing closer even though they were already locked together.

"Not at all," he answered. "It's just the right amount of cheese to satisfy all my Disney fantasies."

"Good, because I'd probably kiss you even if you said yes."

But Kurt didn't wait for Blaine to pull away. He pried the boy away from him, hands going from around Blaine's shoulders to cupping his cheeks, pulling him back in and kissing him before Blaine could ask what he was doing. Because this was Kurt's real first kiss, and he wanted to do it himself, never mind that it had been Blaine's idea.

Their lips seemed to mold together, finding a spot that fit as they angled their heads, noses bumping and fingers pressing just a little too tightly. Kurt felt the cold air nip his skin when one of Blaine's hands fisted in the hem of his sweater and he gasped into the kiss, fingers curling a little and leaving little fingernail marks on Blaine's neck.

But for everything that wasn't right – the cold air, his wet sweater, the hum of Blaine's car that kept reminding them that someone could drive off with it any second – there was something that was right. Because he was kissing Blaine and Blaine was kissing him and he could probably die happy right now because he'd kind of been waiting for this since Blaine had grabbed his hand on the staircase and pulled him down that hallway.

"Excuse me!"

Kurt jumped away from Blaine, hands tugging the hem of his sweater back down as he felt his cheeks flare with color. His dad was standing in the open doorway, arms folded over his chest and a look on his face that told Kurt that he was in serious trouble. And then his dad started laughing, and Blaine let out a nervous chuckle, and then Kurt was laughing and pushing his hair out of his eyes and thinking that maybe his dad walking in on his first real kiss wasn't such a bad thing after all.

"Turn that car off before it starts sliding on the ice," Burt ordered once he was done laughing. "And Kurt, next time don't leave the door open. I'll be waiting in the living room, boy-who-was-just-eating-my-son's-face, and I expect you to be there promptly in five minutes so I can have a word with you about your motives."

Then he shut the door, leaving them alone out in the cold.

"I like your dad," Blaine said, grinning. "He gave us five minutes when he knows it takes about one to put a car in the proper gear and walk ten feet down a driveway."

"So why are you still talking?" Kurt asked him, giving him a shove towards the car. "My lips are cold and I want you to warm them up again."