Story: Element – 1/2
Disclaimer: I don't own these people, they own themselves and are just nice enough to let me spin them around the page now and then.
A/N: The author does not in any way condone bullying or any form of aggression towards homosexuals, or anyone else, for that matter.
If he hadn't been craving an iced mochachino, he might never have known.
On the hunt for new fall fashion – just because he spent his days in Dalton blue, didn't mean he couldn't fit couture into his life (though his dad and step-mom did look at him funny for wearing a suit to dinner) – he was spending the day in Columbus, thankfully free of his usual "entourage" of well-meaning, concerned faces.
After a year of close scrutiny he'd just needed to step outside of his life for a little while –
to get out of his usual element, to find a better, more cosmopolitan element for a while; the big city, or as big as Ohio could get. It wasn't New York or Beverly Hills, but it would do…
He'd petitioned to make the yearly pilgrimage to Columbus on his own and somehow, Burt had agreed. He'd waved off his step-brother's half-hearted offer, amused by Finn's relief at his answer, and, alone, had hit the road early, hoping to avoid the hordes of back-to-school shoppers, whining kids who'd rather be swimming or playing, accompanied by frazzled, sun-burned moms.
10 am and the morning's hastily eaten croissant and juice was long gone. He'd spotted a Starbucks on the food court and scooted into line ahead of a mob of giggly pre-teen girls, a pair of whom seemed fascinated by him. He could hear their whispered comments about his clothes, his hair, his presumed sexuality ("So cute! I bet he's got a cute boyfriend, too!"), but was having too much fun enjoying his apparent rock-star status, another perk of being in the big city, to give them the evil eye.
That's when he saw him.
Across the food court, half-concealed by potted ferns and a couple eating bad-Italian.
He had to look twice – he almost didn't recognize him.
The arched eyebrow, the subtly cleft chin, the peaked hairline, those were the same, but the face was narrower – not lost, swallowed by itself – and even at this distance he could see that the boy's chest seemed more defined, as though all those sports were finally paying off, or he'd matured.
What was most striking to Kurt though was Karofsky's expression – relaxed, happy even – brightened by summer sun and freed of the perpetual dark cloud he had normally skulked under.
He spared himself a moment of bitterness, that his former bully should have even one moment free of torment when he was still exiled, albeit in a zero-tolerance-for-bullying-mostly-gay-high-school, but then he couldn't help but be curious how this transformation had come to pass.
Was this just what Karofsky looked like, removed from testosterone-scented locker rooms and McKinley's tolerance-free zone?
Was this just Karofsky – out of his element?
He was telling himself that he didn't actually care – that really, whatever, right? – when the people sitting at the table in his line of sight finished their pizza and got up to leave and his view of Karofsky – and Karofsky's table-mate – was suddenly cleared.
There he was – the world's biggest muscle-bound coward, Baby-Huey, too scared to come out the closet – laughing and touching some boy's hand.
Kurt couldn't see the boy's face, but his shoulders were too narrow to be from Karofsky's usual summer haunt, football camp. Narrow pale shoulders.
Run! Before he sees—
The barista at the counter was asking Kurt what he wanted and he'd mumbled out an order before he realized what he was doing.
Suddenly feeling like he stuck out like a sore thumb, like the stage had gone dark but for the single spotlight on him, Kurt turned away and in on himself, trying to hide in plain sight, hoping the big, dumb jock wouldn't see him.
The last thing he needed was to have to deal with Karofsky right now, but the barista was apparently new and seemed to be having trouble with his order and as much as he wanted to just disappear, he was stuck waiting, a 5 clutched uselessly in his hand; a hand that was beginning to shake…
How was this possible?
He'd fled McKinley for the safety of Dalton, left a world in which he was out and proud but alone, for one where he was out and proud and just-another-gay-boy, left his home, and the people he loved, to that screwed-in-the-head, closeted asshole, left the idiot to stew and struggle and be tormented – because that's what that jerkwad deserved.
So how did it happen that Kurt, after a year of living non-dangerously, should still be alone, because Blaine, god-damn him, was involved and committed to someone else, and Karofsky, who had looked like he'd rather die than open that closet door, let alone set one foot outside of it, was sitting in a food court, at a mall outside of Columbus Ohio, holding hands with some boy?
Some pale-skinned, narrowed-shouldered, dark-haired boy…
WTF, world, right?
He'd lost the drive to shop anyway. He needed to get the hell out of there, grab his bags, take his finally paid for mochachino, and head for the parking lot.
He might have made it, too, if that stupid newbie barista hadn't forgotten to give him a straw, which Kurt then promptly dropped, and if Kurt hadn't bent over, gracefully, of course, and set off a scream and a giggle from his fangirls on the line.
Flustered, he straightened up and without even looking made a dash for the elevator.
The glass elevator.
Trapped in the contraption, he had to watch as Karofsky, sans the Pale Wonder, ran to the staircase that curled around the elevator and took the steps, two at a time.
Kurt considered not getting off and taking the car back up to the food court, but again, felt thwarted – exposed – by all that glass. Seeing the determination on Karofsky's sun-kissed and flushed face, he suspected the boy could have kept up the game of staircase/elevator tag all day…
The last one off the car, he made a vain attempt to slip off to the side, but Karofsky jumped in front of him.
"Hummel," he said breathlessly, and Kurt wasn't prepared for the brightness there, the lightness, as though he'd expected the bloated and bitter bully persona to slip back into place once his old target had been sighted. "How funny to run into you here."