They had been shouting for hours, now. Blaine lay in bed, trying to pick out individual words, but all he could hear was their rhythm, wafting through the walls. Dad was angry and used his words like a sword, stabbing angrily and futilely at ghosts he couldn't see. Mom was scared.

They probably thought that Blaine was asleep. He couldn't, though, not when he knew that they were discussing his future. Eventually, it got to be too much and he slipped out of bed and crept down the hall, bare feet padding on the carpet. He stepped carefully around the creaky floorboards, silent as a ghost, until he was outside his parents' room. He leant in carefully, ear against the door so that he could finally hear their words.

"—can't afford it," Dad was saying. "Not without cutting into his college fund."

"What choice do we have, though?" asked Mom.

"He could transfer to another public school," said Dad. "Start fresh."

There was a slight pause before Mom responded, as she thought about what Dad had said. "That won't fix the problem, though, will it? Not when they don't have a no-tolerance policy like Dalton Academy."

When Dad spoke it was final. "That won't matter because Blaine will keep his head down and not try so hard to stand out."

"I still think Dalton Academy will be a better fit for him," Mom argued.

Blaine had heard enough. He could wait until morning to hear what future they'd decided on for him. He tip-toed back down the hall and climbed into his bed, wrapping the covers tightly around him like a hug.

Less than a week later, Blaine found himself standing outside the doors of McKinley High, trying to find the courage to take the final step inside. His parents had agreed to a compromise – Blaine would go to another public school for now and if things got too bad, they'd pull him out. Before Blaine had left, though, Dad had pulled him aside and warned him that they'd have to cut into his college fund to afford it and that would jeopardise his future. The implied instruction was to stay on the down low and not flaunt his gayness.

Blaine hadn't meant to be out at his old school. It had just happened. Blaine had only told one person – his best friend, Michael – but he believed it when Michael had said that he hadn't told anyone. He wasn't all that subtle and there were other ways that people could have realised. In an English lesson on modern adaptations of classic texts, Blaine had given his presentation on Wicked. In Glee, he'd joined the girls in a performance of Lady Gaga. He'd asked if he could write a fashion column for the school newsletter in journalism club. They were all stereotypes, but they were enough to start rumours.

Until the beginning of his sophomore year, Blaine hadn't been popular, but he'd flown under the radar. He hadn't been bullied because the jocks and popular kids hadn't even known his name. It all changed suddenly when someone scratched the word fag into his locker.

Blaine had tried to hide it from his parents, but they'd found out the day he failed to arrive home because he'd been locked in a supply closet and had been unable to escape. Dad had asked him why he hadn't fought back and had seemed disgusted when Blaine admitted that he'd been scared. Maybe if he'd had a little more courage, Dad said, this wouldn't be a problem.

Blaine was scared now.

He took a deep breath. People were pushing past him to get inside. If he didn't move soon, he would start to draw their attention. Blaine's plan for survival was to not draw any attention to himself. Focusing on moving individual muscles wasn't working. Blaine forced himself to stop thinking and take the plunge. Three steps and he was inside.

Periods one, two and three passed without drawing any undue attention. As Blaine walked to French, he started to think that maybe it would be alright. Maybe his father was right and all he had to do was keep his head down and be less gay.

Maybe he'd survive high school after all.

Kurt always arrived early for French and spent the time carefully arranging his pens and pencils and workbook so that they fitted neatly into his half of the two-person desk. He could have spread out more – nobody ever sat next to him – but it felt slightly less lonely that way, like maybe it was just for today and tomorrow someone would walk right in and fill the space and prove that he wasn't a social pariah.

Kurt noticed the new boy as soon as he walked into the room. He stood with his shoulders hunched and his head bowed, which made him look even shorter than he was. His clothes were far from high fashion – Kurt suspected that they were from Gap – but the colours matched and that was more than Kurt could say for most of his classmates. His hair was a mass of unruly curls.

He finished talking to the teacher and turned to find a place to sit. The only free seat was next to Kurt. Kurt tried not to be offended when the new boy hesitated and looked around the room again before walking over.

Kurt had to introduce himself. "I'm Kurt Hummel."

"Uh, Blaine Anderson," the new boy said, offering his hand.

Kurt would have held onto Blaine's hand for as long as he could, but Blaine pulled away as soon as the proper time for a handshake had expired and focused on pulling his books out of his bag.

When the teacher asked for volunteers to answer questions, Blaine stayed silent, but Kurt knew that he was smart because he was able to write all the answers in his book. Kurt couldn't understand why Blaine wouldn't take credit for his knowledge. He was excited, though, at the thought of there being someone else in the class who was as good at French as he was.

They marked their work. The teacher told them that, since they had a new class member, they'd have to find new partners for dialogue exercises to work with for the rest of the term. Kurt turned to Blaine but Blaine had already started walking across the room to find someone who wasn't Kurt to partner with.

Kurt tried to tell himself that he was disappointed at losing a chance at a partner who could keep up with him and not because yet another person had looked at how different he was and decided that he wasn't worth knowing.

After French, Blaine hurried to the toilets and locked himself in a stall before allowing himself to hyperventilate. He hadn't expected to meet someone like Kurt – someone so bright and lively and so, so stylish. Kurt had written these incredibly witty sarcastic comments in French in the margins of his work. Blaine desperately wanted to get to know him better.

But, but Kurt was so obviously gay. He dressed in designer fashion. He had a high pitched voice. He hadn't even tried to hide the way he'd checked Blaine out as Blaine walked into the room. Talking to Kurt – even as partners in French class – would be enough to start the rumours. If he partnered with Kurt, transferring would be for nothing. The bullying would start again and Blaine wasn't strong enough (or courageous enough) to survive that.

Blaine had tried not to look at Kurt as he walked across the room to find another partner, but he couldn't help but notice the hurt expression on Kurt's face. He tried to convince himself that by avoiding Kurt he wasn't implicitly condoning whatever bullying Kurt faced – he was just a bystander who didn't want to get caught in the crossfire. He just didn't want to get involved.

The rest of the week passed in a similar pattern. Blaine kept to himself as much as possible and tried not to venture an opinion except when expressly asked. He needed a group to hang out with – loners were automatic targets – so he joined A/V club and silently obeyed Lauren Zizes's every instruction in return for being able to sit at their table at lunchtime.

He saw the poster advertising New Directions on the Tuesday of his second week. At his old school, Glee had been the best part of his day. He couldn't join here, though. He'd heard his A/V friends gossip about the Glee losers. Joining would undo all his hard work. The only reason that Artie had gotten away with his decision to join was because he was doing it to chase a girl. Blaine would have all the time to sing when he was out of here and at a college where physical violence was a crime, not acceptable hazing.

By Wednesday, Kurt Hummel's name had been added to the list. For a moment, Blaine felt the urge to walk over and write his name directly below it. Instead, he walked away. He was late for his A/V club meeting anyway.