The judging sheets at Sectionals had said great things about the Warblers. They loved Jeff's ballad, fawned over the vast harmonies, and simply raved about Blaine's "irresistible" stage presence. However, there was one thing each and every judge had mentioned: costumes.
Or rather, the Warblers' lack of costumes.
Dalton Academy's oldest music group had always performed in their uniforms, with each and every member in their blazers. They always looked professional and organized, characteristics the group was proud to exude inside and out. But the recent transition of the Warblers from a recreational, local-performance-based choir to competitive show choir team required at least a few changes to tradition. Try as they may, the council couldn't argue with the judges' opinions.
One Thursday Wes and the rest of the council surprised their teammates by ending rehearsal early to allow for a Warbler field trip to the mall, where they would try to find outfits appropriate enough for both Dalton's and the judges' standards.
"Remember, we're looking for professionalism, but also personality," Wes said as the team made their way across the parking lot.
"At McKinley the guys always wore black dress shirts and pants," Kurt suggested. "We just switched ties each time we performed. It helped us spread out our budget."
Wes frowned. "We'd rather not look like we're copying New Directions' style, Kurt."
Sighing, Kurt rolled his eyes at Blaine.
"It was just a suggestion," he muttered. "He doesn't have to constantly attack me just because I come from another glee club."
Blaine smiled as he held the door open for Kurt as they entered the mall. "He'll lighten up eventually."
"I've been here for three months. At this rate we have a better shot of Karofsky 'lightening up'."
Kurt's sarcastic comment would come back to haunt him as the Warblers made their way across the food court towards the Gap, where they would begin their hunt for costumes. A mass of red and tan jackets took up a good portion of the dining area, and even out of the corner of his eye, Kurt could easily see the black M on every chest.
Don't even make eye contact with them, he told himself, choosing instead to stare at the crooked results of Evan's do-it-yourself haircut. Maybe they won't even notice you; it's not like you particularly stand out anymore.
"Well, if it isn't Kurt Homo."
Maybe Kurt didn't blend in as well as he thought he did.
Kurt nearly collided into Evan, who, along with the rest of the Warblers, had stopped upon hearing Azimio's voice. Blaine reached his arm across him, as to both steady and shield him. Abandoning his previous mantra, he turned to the jock who had issued the offending statement.
Azimio was sitting with the rest of the hockey team, who all looked tired and sweaty, no doubt just coming from a game and stopping for dinner before heading back to Lima. The hockey players had their eyes on the former McKinley student, waiting for his reaction. Kurt refused to give them one, instead showing a blank expression as he kept his eyes on Azimio, not daring to glance to the left, where he could feel David Karofsky's eyes burning a hole into him.
The Warblers' David was the one to break the silence.
"What did you say to him?"
"Hummel," Kurt blurted. "Hummel. He said Hummel."
It was the first time he had actually been a little happy those two words sounded so similar. Maybe the whole thing would just blow over and they'd forget the whole thing.
No one believed the lie, but the look they were getting from Kurt clearly screamed let it go and move on, so David gave one last glare to Azimio before leading the Warblers away, ignoring the laughter from the jocks with heads held high. Once they were clear of the food court, the council member fell back to Kurt's side.
"Who were those guys?" he asked.
Kurt shook his head and knocked Blaine's arm from around him. He hated feeling like he needed to be protected all the time; he went to Dalton to avoid people forming a Secret Service-like barrier around him at school.
"McKinley hockey team. Just a bunch of ignorant Neanderthals. It's best to ignore them."
David frowned. "He didn't call you 'Hummel', and you know it, Kurt."
"I guess someone else was using the team brain. The two terms are easily confused by those guys. Easily confused by most people, actually," he added, venom in his voice clear.
David nodded, still visibly upset.
"I'm fine, really. I've been called worse."
"Alright, if you say so," David said, making his way back towards Wes, who had just entered the Gap and was splitting up the team to look at different sections of the store. Shooting Kurt an unkind glance, Wes sent him to the back of the store with the freshmen, as far as possible away from Blaine, who was ordered to ask about discounts. Kurt had a feeling the decision wasn't coincidental.
"I'm sorry he called you that."
Kurt turned towards Patrick, one of the freshmen he had been paired up with. The fear and concern on his face was genuine. Kurt smiled; he and Patrick got along almost as well as he and Blaine did.
Patrick was part of the Five Percent – the 400 boys of Dalton Academy were each unofficially divided into one of three groups: wealth, grades, and safety. Approximately eighty-five percent of the class was from well-off families from all over the Midwest, sent to the best school their family could afford. Ten percent were either on scholarship or from families who put their sons' educations over their own needs, at Dalton for the purpose of taking as many Advanced Placement classes as possible and trying to get into Ivy League schools. Then there was the Five Percent, the group of twenty or so boys that had come to Dalton for the zero-tolerance harassment policy, boys like Blaine, Kurt and Patrick. Although the wealthy and highly academic rarely let their reasons for attending define them, the Five Percent all knew each other, and supported one another.
"Don't let it worry you, Patrick. It's fine, we're not going to let it bother us."
Patrick nodded, still visibly worried. He hadn't been hardened by bullying like Kurt had; his parents had sent him to Dalton as a preemptive strike against the taunting of high school after he came out as bisexual in eighth grade. Kurt gave him a reassuring pat on the back before turning towards the sweaters, which in his opinion were so last season.
At the other end of the store, Blaine turned from the sales clerk to see a large figure hiding behind a clearance rack. Excusing himself politely, he walked over to Dave Karofsky, who was too busy staring at Kurt to notice him coming.
"What are you doing here?" Blaine asked, forcefully but quiet enough that no one else could hear him.
Karofsky's head jerked towards him, eyes narrowing.
"Shopping. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"It looks like you don't know when to stop," Blaine spat. He glanced towards Kurt, hoping that he didn't notice who was at the front of the store. Seeing him talk animatedly with Patrick, Blaine turned back and continued.
"Hasn't he been through enough? You force him out of his school, away from his friends, away from his family," he said, stressing the fact that going to a boarding school and not being part of his newly-grown family had upset Kurt ten times more than leaving glee club or his wardrobe behind. "He's out of Lima at least five days a week. Shouldn't that be enough for you?"
Karofsky clenched his teeth. "I need to make sure he doesn't tell anyone."
"Of course he's not going to tell anyone; he's too afraid you're going to kill him in his sleep."
"Well, I think he needs to be reminded of that," Karofsky growled.
Blaine fought the urge to leap onto the hockey player and pummel his face in. Shaking with rage, he bared his teeth and looked Kurt's tormentor straight in the eye.
"You are going to leave him alone."
"Oh, really? How are you going to do that?" Karofsky seemed amused by the threat. There was no way Blaine would win in a fight between the two of them.
Blaine's lips twitched into an unpleasant, almost cruel smile.
"You seem to have forgotten that Kurt did tell someone," he said slowly, taking pleasure in the fear that spread across Karofsky's face. "Kurt told me. He told me all about the kiss, how you… kissed… him."
He drew out the last three words, relishing in the terror in the jock's eyes.
"You wouldn't," he muttered.
"I wonder what Burt Hummel would do if he found out that the boy who threatened to kill his son also sexually assaulted him. Man, I'd pay to watch that."
"You wouldn't," he repeated, anger returning, getting dangerously close to Blaine.
"Oh, but I would," he countered. "I'd run through the halls of William McKinley shouting it to everyone I see.
"So, Dave, you have two options: you either leave right now, and never come near Kurt again, or I will tell everyone about you."
"What about your little 'gay code'? I thought fairies didn't rat each other out."
Blaine looked at him, dropping the cruel taunting act, showing nothing but pure seriousness.
"I am willing to break every rule in the book if it means Kurt's going to be safe."
Blaine meant it; he'd probably break federal law if it were for Kurt's benefit. He'd do anything for Kurt. He loved him.
Dave Karofsky could tell. Before he could register movement from the jock, Blaine felt himself colliding with the rack behind him, collapsing on top from the force of the shove. The crash was loud enough to startle the entire shop, and Kurt was one of the first Warblers to run over after hearing Blaine's pained moan.
Kurt was almost at Blaine's side when he registered Karofsky's presence. His entire body tensed up, and he was finding it impossible to breathe. The hockey player stepped towards him, eyes narrowed, and while Kurt's brain was telling him to run for his life, his body refused to respond. Karofsky was less than three feet away when Blaine forced himself off of the ground and rushed to Kurt's side, dragging the smaller boy a few steps back.
"I meant it," he spat, anger overpowering the pain in his head and back. "Now leave."
With one last menacing glare, Karofsky turned and walked out of the shop, leaving those present in stunned silence. As soon as the coast was clear, Blaine released his anger, walking with a slight limp over to the register and leaned against it, trying to relieve the pressure that standing was putting on his bruising back.
Kurt remained frozen where he stood, staring at the linoleum. He whispered an apology to Blaine, although he couldn't bring himself to look at his injured friend.
"Don't, Kurt," he replied. "I went and confronted him; it's my own fault." Blaine winced as one of the sales clerks pressed an ice pack from the first aid kit behind the counter to the back of his head.
Kurt still stared at the ground, even though he knew that every Warbler, plus the Gap staff and two mall cops were watching him. Jeff's voice seemed muffled in Kurt's head, but he heard the question clearly: who was that?
"He's…" he began, voice shaky. "He's… the reason I'm here. At Dalton.
"He wants to kill me."
Seconds passed as stunned silence blanketed the store. Then Kurt found himself in a tight embrace, strong thin arms surrounding him.
"You're safe now, Kurt. We're not going to let him hurt you."
The shock of hearing Wes' voice snapped him out of his daze, and Kurt dropped his head on the older boy's shoulder, clutching him and beginning to sob. Wes stood there, holding him tightly until he calmed down.
The events in the Gap had put a serious damper on the Warblers outing, but the council decided that there wasn't any point in abandoning their mission. The team made its way down the corridor to other shops, while Blaine and Kurt headed down to the ice cream shop at the opposite end of the mall than the food court, trying to ease their physical and emotional pain with a sundae.
They returned to Dalton with many costume ideas, which the council planned to share with the Fine and Performing Arts Dean the next day. Kurt had seen Blaine to the nurse before hurrying back to his room and collapsing onto his bed, barely saying hello to his roommate Dan, who was watching Jersey Shore on his computer.
An hour later there was a knock on the door, which Dan opened to reveal Wes.
"Hey, Kurt. Can we talk?"
Kurt nodded and pulled himself into a sitting position. Resting his back against the wall, he gestured for Wes to sit next to him. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, the senior spoke.
"Blaine gave us Karofsky's name," he started, watching Kurt flinch slightly at the name. "We found his picture online, and we've given it to the security guards and the maintenance staff. Between the Warblers and them, the guy doesn't stand a chance if he tries to step foot on campus."
"Thank you," Kurt said, voice hoarse. "I really appreciate it. I'm sorry I ruined the field trip."
"That wasn't your fault at all. It was his fault for trying to hurt you, and maybe a little bit Blaine's fault for trying to chase him away without backup. He's shorter than you, and about as terrifying as a poodle."
Kurt didn't smile at Wes' attempt of mood lightening. The council member sighed, running his hand along Kurt's bedspread, before looking over at Pavarotti, bouncing around on his perch.
"I want to apologize to you, Kurt."
"Why?" Kurt asked. "None of what happened was your fault."
"Not about that. I'm sorry about, well, everything." Kurt looked at him, confused, so he clarified, "how I've been treating you."
Wes turned, crossing his legs and looking straight at Kurt. "I haven't exactly been the most welcoming of the Warblers."
Kurt couldn't help but roll his eyes. Unwelcoming was an understatement; Wes was constantly short with him, and was the first to shoot down any suggestions Kurt offered to the group. It had gotten to the point where Kurt was somewhat reluctant to try out for solos, for he knew Wes would likely vote against him, regardless if he was the best one to audition.
Wes grimaced at the gesture. "It's been pretty obvious, hasn't it?"
"Just a little bit."
"You see, when you first showed up at Dalton, we thought it was just a simple attempt at spying, and I found the whole thing a little flattering."
Kurt smiled at the memory. "Endearing was the word David used."
Wes nodded. "It was endearing. And I thought that would be the end of it, and we'd see you at Sectionals and joke about it then.
"But then," he continued, getting more serious, "you started spending a lot of time with Blaine, and then you showed up one day, telling us that you transferred because of 'school issues'."
"I didn't want to freak you guys out by telling you someone was out to get me," Kurt muttered.
"I get that now, and completely understand why you transferred, and I'm really glad you got away from that guy. But at the time, I… I thought you transferred to spy on us some more, and try to shake things up and throw us off of our game. I was suspicious, Kurt. I didn't really trust you. I thought you were going to hurt the Warblers, or hurt Blaine."
Kurt's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why would you think I would want to hurt Blaine?"
Wes sighed. "The one person you got really close to was the guy you saw perform lead. And then straight off the bat you asked him if he was gay. I… this may sound crazy, but I thought you were trying to seduce him to throw him off his game."
After the fiasco that was Jesse St. James last year, it didn't sound that crazy. "Believe me, I had no intentions to throw him off his game," Kurt said, careful to avoid the first part of the statement. Seducing Blaine may have been his goal these last few weeks.
"I thought you were, and it certainly looked like it was working," Wes rambled, not noticing the shocked look on Kurt's face as he continued. "I mean, Blaine was smitten with you from the start, and he talks about you all the time. It would have been really easy for you to break his heart. So, I kept you away from each other to try and prevent that.
"Looking back, I understand why you two connected so easily: you were going through the same stuff Blaine did when he transferred back when he was a freshman. And, in hindsight, it's pretty clear that the relationship you two have is really genuine. I should have trusted Blaine's opinions of you, and been glad that my friend is the happiest he's ever been in the two years he's been here. Instead, I was trying to stop you two from getting together."
Kurt nodded slowly, still processing the fact that Blaine could possibly like him as more than a friend.
"It's not completely unreasonable. Did you hear what Vocal Adrenaline did to New Directions last year?"
He told Wes the story with increasing enthusiasm, and at the end of it the two were laughing out loud at the insanity of the feud. Dan had pulled off his headphones several times to shush them.
"And then, as if he didn't crush her enough, they all threw raw eggs at her. Rachel's a vegan; she was having nightmares for weeks about little chicken fetuses."
"Oh, wow, that's actually really awful," Wes said, cringing. "I'm vegan, too. I would probably have nightmares about the mother hens chasing me, screaming for their babies."
"I didn't know you were vegan! That's actually really cool; I was thinking about going vegetarian for a while, but my dad's a total meat-and-potatoes guy and it would be painful to cook two different meals –"
A knock on the opened door interrupted them. Blaine stood in the doorway, smiling.
"How are you doing?" he asked Kurt.
"Me? How are you doing? How big is the bruise on your back?"
Blaine pulled a face and shook his head, signaling that he had no bruise to share. Kurt knew better.
"You don't walk away from a Karofsky Shove without a bruise. Trust me; there was once a time where you could make out padlock numbers on my shoulder."
Wes was shocked at how calm Kurt was at the statement. Blaine sighed, turned around and lifted the white undershirt, having removed his blazer, oxford and tie at the nurse's. The outline of the metal rack was visible, a line of purple coming down diagonally across his lower back.
"I'm sorry," Kurt whispered.
"Hey," Blaine shushed him, walking over and sitting down next to him on the bed. "Repeat after me: This is not my fault."
"This is not your fault."
Blaine laughed at the joke. He wrapped an arm around Kurt's shoulders, pulling him in close.
"Come on, say it."
"This is not my fault."
"Once more, with feeling!"
Kurt laughed. "This is not my fault!"
"Good." Blaine looked over at Wes, who suddenly felt like a third wheel. Blaine and Kurt looked so comfortable together, and there was definitely something in the way they looked at one another that hinted at something more than friendship. Wes felt like a total asshole for trying to keep them apart these last few months.
He patted Kurt's knee, more to signal that he was still there than anything else. Kurt looked up, not with annoyance or discomfort like Wes had grown accustomed to, but smiling.
"Are we good, Kurt? Fresh start?"
"Of course," Kurt grinned, offering his hand.
Wes shook it and stood up. "Goodnight, Kurt, Blaine."
Blaine looked at Kurt once Wes closed the door behind him.
"I take it he's finally pulled his head out of his ass?"
Kurt nodded. "I get why he was acting the way he was, though. He cares about the team, and didn't want to see anything bad happen to it."
"Believe me, Kurt," Blaine said, pulling him into a tight hug, "you are the best thing to happen to the Dalton Academy Warblers in a long time."
The two laid back on the bed, arms still around each other, careful not to put too much pressure on Blaine's back. Wes' words were still running through Kurt's head as he looked at Blaine. The boy truly looked happy, despite the physical pain being friends with Kurt had put him through. Maybe Blaine did like Kurt as much as Wes had hinted. The younger boy wanted to test that theory out, wanted to pin Blaine down on the mattress and kiss him until the bruises faded.
But he didn't. They'd both been through so much today, and Kurt didn't want to ruin the comfortable silence by launching into a discussion about relationships. More importantly, he wanted Blaine to love him at a time when he was strong and, to use their word, courageous, rather than feeling like he had to be protected at all times. Kurt simply readjusted himself on the bed and rested his head on Blaine's chest, listening intently to the heartbeat as Blaine's fingers made their way through his hair.
"You do know what this means, don't you?" Kurt asked, breaking the silence after a few minutes.
"No, I don't. Enlighten me."
"Wes won't be voting against me anymore. You have some serious competition next time a solo comes around."
Blaine's laugh echoed through the room. Pulling Kurt in closer, he whispered, "I'm looking forward to it."