"We didn't ask for your help," Finn stated, and the words came out a little more coldly than he really meant them to. "And we don't need it."

"That's where you're wrong, Doughboy," Santana retorted, eyeing her nails with a smug, secretive smile. "Because for all the combined failure between the two of you that I could point out if I really wanted to, there's really just one reason why you'll never be able to pull this off on your own." She looked up to meet Finn's eyes for a moment before giving Karofsky a strangely knowing look. "You're both terrible liars."

"That's a bad thing?" Karofsky sputtered out a nervous response, not quite making eye contact with her across the table. "Since when is lying well something to be proud of?"

"Since ever," Santana replied without hesitation, "especially when you're trying to pull off this kind of thing. You boys need me, whether you like it or not – me, and my years of experience in the fine arts of deception and manipulation."

"We've got this," Finn insisted. "We know what we're doing. We've already been to the police, and we've talked to everyone who's working on the case… that they'd… let us… talk to, and we've got copies of all the official documents…"

"You mean, all the crap anyone with a library card can look up in the public records?" Santana was visibly unimpressed. "If I'd have gone, I'd have twice as much information as you have now."

Karofsky frowned. "I don't think that's true…"

"You've never really seen me in action," Santana interrupted, confident and certain. "But Finn has – and he knows what I'm talking about." She stood up with a little shrug. "But what do I know? You guys were probably just about to find the guy all on your own. Don't let me stop you." She turned as if to walk away.

"Wait."

Finn avoided Karofsky's incredulous gaze, though he could still see it out of the corner of his eye. He didn't really want to involve Santana any more than the other boy did, but deep down… he knew that she was right. After all, she'd figured out what they were up to, hadn't she? It wasn't as if they were getting anywhere in their investigation, anyway, so what could it hurt to have a fresh pair of eyes on – well, everything?

And besides that, now that Santana did know about their scheme, keeping her out of it when she clearly wanted in could be a recipe for disaster. One thing Finn did know about Santana Lopez – she could make your life a living hell if she wanted to, even without the kind of ammunition this knowledge would give her.

And… if she really can help somehow, then… maybe we should let her

"Sit down," Finn sighed. "I think – we could use your help. If you want."

"Of course I want to help." Santana cast a disbelieving glare across the table at Finn as she sat back down, arms crossed in front of her. "Hummel's my friend, and he didn't deserve what that creep did to him. I won't be satisfied until I've personally tracked the asshole down, chopped off his disgusting rapist junk and set it on fire in front of him, and then and only then, gouged the eyes out of his fucking face."

Karofsky eyed her warily for a moment, but then slowly, reluctantly nodded. "Okay, then."

"But there's one condition before we get started." Santana's voice was quiet and calm, and she met Finn's eyes with a challenge in her own. "We're telling Kurt exactly what we're doing."

"What? No!" Finn protested, abruptly panicked at the very thought.

"Yes." Santana was unrelenting. "He has a right to know."

"I can't tell him," Finn insisted. "He'll be so pissed off!"

"Well, yeah." Santana rolled her eyes. "If it was me, and you two were off pulling this shit behind my back, I'd kick your asses. You better believe he's going to be pissed off." She paused a moment for effect before concluding, "And whenever you do find the guy, and this whole thing goes to trial, and he's dragged through court and has to tell the whole story to the entire world, and the whole time he had no idea it was even coming, no idea what you guys were doing… how pissed off do you think he'll be then?"

"But he knows the police are looking for the guy," Karofsky pointed out. "It's not like when he gets caught it's going to be some big shock…"

Santana pointedly ignored him, focusing her attention on Finn, eyes blazing with a quiet intensity. "He trusts you," she stated quietly. "And you know this isn't right. Not this way. You want to stomp all over that trust, fine. But he trusts me, too, and I'm sure not going to."

"What if he tells us to stop?" Finn's mouth felt dry, and the words came out weak and uncertain.

Santana shrugged. "I'm not saying you have to do exactly what he says about it. If he tells me to stop, I'll probably tell him, 'Not until the psycho's in the ground.' But we can't hide it from him. He has a right to know what we're doing."

Karofsky had been quiet through most of the exchange, but he pushed his chair back abruptly, shaking his head. "I'm not going to keep going when he says no. Which totally leaves me out of this, because no way he's going to want my help…"

Santana turned her steely gaze on him, clearly unimpressed. "Or you could man up and apologize. Actually make it right to his face instead of trying to ease your guilt by going behind his back like this. If you're sorry, then tell him, and let him know you really want to help."

Karofsky didn't reply, didn't look up… but he didn't stand up, either.

After a moment, Santana went on. "I have ideas," she stated. "Connections I think we should look into, ways we might be able to find out more than what the police will tell us. But before we do anything else, before I get into this at all, we need to go find Kurt, and you guys need to tell him the truth. And you should know before you make your decision that if you don't – I will."

Kurt's lips were soft and seeking against Blaine's mouth, silently urging him to deepen the kiss, as the hand not currently tangled gently in Blaine's hair drifted down to rest near the hem of his shirt, which at some point in the last few minutes, Kurt had managed to free from the waistband of Blaine's slacks. Blaine's flawlessly gelled hair was now a disheveled mess of barely controlled curls, and he couldn't help wishing that Kurt's errant hand might venture a little further.

When they'd met at the mall that afternoon, this was absolutely the last place Blaine had expected things to end up.

He was so upset… this is just so fast…

"Kurt," Blaine whispered when Kurt withdrew for breath. "Kurt, are you sure…"

"No, Blaine, my lips and hands are moving independently of my own free will," Kurt shot back, his voice soft and breathless, but still carrying that unmistakable, razor-sharp Kurt-Hummel sarcasm. "God, I'm so sick of everyone telling me what I want and what I need and could you just not? Please?"

"O-okay," Blaine agreed, his breath catching as Kurt followed up his vaguely frustrated words with a soft kiss against Blaine's throat. "God, Kurt…"

For someone whose only experience with kissing consisted of a single unwilling kiss several months earlier, Kurt was surprisingly good at this, Blaine realized as Kurt pushed him down on the couch with eager, trembling hands, fingers once more edging along the hem of his shirt but not quite venturing under it. It was a delicious, thrilling tease that made Blaine want to give himself over to it, to simply enjoy what was happening, what he'd been hoping would happen between them, without questioning it.

He'd wanted this for so long, and it felt so good, so natural and easy and…

Maybe that was it. Maybe it was just too easy.

After all this time… me not being sure, and then Kurt not being sure, and with everything he's going through right now… that's the problem...

Why right now?

"Kurt… wait a second…" It was difficult to get the words out, with Kurt's mouth half-covering his own, and Blaine pulled away a little, trying to make eye contact. "Kurt… I just don't understand…"

"It's pretty simple math here."

One eyebrow was raised in a dubious look that made Blaine feel young and silly, and made him want to just shut up and go along with this, if only to make Kurt stop looking at him like that. And that was another problem, another factor contributing to Blaine's rising unease.

Wasn't this supposed to feel good?

Oh, physically, it felt amazing, but emotionally, it felt… rushed and off-center and… empty.

"I'm ready, Blaine," Kurt insisted. "You like me, right? You said you did. And I like you, and I'm ready for this…"

"Well… what if I'm not?"

Kurt froze, staring down at Blaine with wide eyes, and Blaine took the opportunity to push him back enough that he could sit up on the sofa again. His face burned under Kurt's scrutiny, and he looked away, swallowing hard as he adjusted his rumpled clothing and then ran a shaky hand through his messy hair.

"I-I just… I can't help but think that… there's some reason that you're doing this… now, after all this time, and that… that reason… doesn't really have anything to do with… with me."

They weren't touching anymore, but Blaine still felt it when Kurt tensed up, his jaw setting in frustration, his expression becoming cold and rigid. "You know what, Blaine?" he snapped. "I'm not a helpless victim, and I'm not a child who doesn't know what he wants. If I didn't want to kiss you, I wouldn't have, and I don't need you trying to tell me whether or not I should and what's best for me." He was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again, the slight tremor in his voice betrayed the uncertainty that he was trying so hard to hide. "If you don't want to kiss me, then why don't you just say so?"

"I kinda think I just did!"

Blaine snapped back at Kurt without thinking, defensive, because this was just too surreal, everything he'd hoped to have with Kurt, offered and then snatched away in the space of a few minutes, and because he was just really confused about what was even going on here, and because Kurt suddenly seemed to be pissed off at him and he had no idea why.

Kurt flinched, and Blaine immediately regretted the words.

"That's… not really what I meant," he sighed. "Kurt, of course I want to kiss you, but not like this, not when it's just because you're like… upset or something, and tomorrow when you're not so upset you might not be sure about… about us, anymore, and I just… want it to be because you like me and not because you… you need something and you think I can give it to you and…"

"Get out."

Blaine stopped talking, his stomach lurching at the low fury in Kurt's words, barely over a whisper. He looked up at Kurt, wounded. "W-what?"

"I think you should go." Kurt's words were slow and measured, carefully calm. "Clearly you don't want to be here…"

Blaine shook his head in helpless frustration. "That's not what I said…"

"My dad's going to be home any minute," Kurt interrupted. "If you're refusing to leave, he can make you leave, and if he knows you refused he'll be pissed, so I'd suggest you go now."

That thought was enough to send the nauseous, uneasy feeling in the pit of Blaine's stomach into panicked overdrive. He had only met Burt Hummel once or twice, but he'd clearly gotten the feeling that he was being sized up, his worthiness judged and found wanting. He knew from his friendship with Kurt that his father was fiercely protective, and also knew that at the moment, those protective instincts would be on high alert.

Being caught here by Kurt's father when Kurt didn't want him here was the absolute last thing Blaine wanted.

"O-okay," he conceded, standing up and holding his hands out in front of him in a gesture of surrender as he took a couple of backward steps away from Kurt. "I'm going. I'm sorry." He hesitated, shaking his head as he added, "I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry, and… I'm going."

The sound of the front door slamming made Kurt flinch, and he buried his face in his arms on the arm of the sofa, drawing in a series of deep, shaky breaths, trying to calm his nerves. He was alone in the house now, with no obvious threat – and yet he felt as if he was on the verge of another panic attack, his heart racing and his palms damp, light-headed and confused.

What is wrong with you? Why did you do that? He didn't do anything, he doesn't even know anything, and you just threw him out of here like a crazy person…

That thought was followed by another, darker realization, and Kurt shivered, mouth dry and stomach roiling.

He doesn't know anything… doesn't know what happened to you… and still he could barely stand to touch you, didn't want to kiss you, just felt that you're wrong… ruined… You two are barely talking again, and you're throwing yourself at him like a little slut… no wonder he practically ran away screaming…

Something's wrong with you that can't ever be fixed.

The doorbell rang, and Kurt looked up, startled and hopeful at the same time.

Maybe he came back. Maybe you can apologize and let him know that this wasn't his fault and still make it right before you lose even his friendship, let alone any chance of anything else…

Kurt got up and hurried to the door, fighting the instinctive fear he felt when he reached it, that momentary panic at the thought that he might find a stranger there. It was broad daylight, and Blaine had just left, and his father would be home any moment, and it was perfectly safe…

Still, he found himself letting out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding when he opened the door to find only familiar faces standing there.

But… a more unlikely combination of familiar faces, Kurt really couldn't have imagined.

Finn stood there, an apologetic grimace on his lips as he met Kurt's eyes, and he was accompanied by Santana… and David Karofsky.

"Hey, Kurt." Santana was the first to speak up, her smile somehow warm and hard as steel at the same time. "Is this a bad time?"