Fic: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back - Chapter 3a
Chapter Summary: After-school meetings, Kurt and Mercedes start to reconnect, and Kurt and Blaine perform for New Directions.
Warnings: Nothing.
Spoilers: Kurt has knowledge up through "Rumours". This is pretty AU, and while it will follow the show a little, a lot has been changed.
Wordcount: 4,665/9,216
Notes: Sorry this is a little late. I update about every 4 days or so, which technically I my LJ, with the first half of this. I was tempted several times to post the first half here, but since it's all technically "Chapter 3" I didn't want to mess up the numbers with Chapter 3a & Chapter 3b. So instead, you get an extra long chapter! Let me know what you think of it!

The original song "If I Never Knew You" is sung by Jon Secada and Sharice, and it's from the soundtrack of Pocahontas. Unfortunately, the version I'm now used to is from one of those compilation CDs of unknown singers doing covers of famous songs, so what I was listening to is much closer to Kurt & Blaine's vocal range, and the melody is a little slower than the original song version. Not that it matters since I can't link to it on here, but if you wanted to look it up on youtube & listen.

Kurt is feeling much less optimistic three days later. It's Monday, and while he and Blaine have been texting each other all weekend, it's still a little stilted because they don't know each other that well yet. It's probably made worse because Kurt does know Blaine, but doesn't want to seem creepy acting overly familiar, and he has to triple-think everything he sends to make sure he's not mentioning anything Blaine hasn't told him yet.

It may have only been three days, but Kurt feels like it's been a month, at least, and he's getting frustrated. No, it's passed the point of frustrating, and is edging into ridiculous. Things start to look up that morning, though, when he gets a text just before school that says 'Thinking about getting a coffee after school. Will i see you there?'

Kurt may do a spastic little happy dance in the driver's seat before calming down enough to send a reply. He finally settles on, 'It's a possibility. Not until 4:30 though, I have glee practice.'

It's the first time either of them has mentioned that they sing, mostly because Kurt has no idea how to bring it up without sounding like some kind of stalker, or like he's been spying on Blaine because he's competition or something.

Kurt probably looks like a maniac walking into school with the large grin he can't tamp down, but he's too elated to really care. Because just as he started across the parking lot, Blaine had sent one last text.

'I look forward to maybe seeing you later. ;)'

It's depressing, not having his 'COURAGE' collage in his locker anymore, but Kurt's decided to make a new collage. His first piece of memorabilia is a small piece of thin cardboard, that has the top of the Lima Bean cafe logo down at the bottom of it, and seven digits scrawled right across the middle. It's kind of stupid, looking at it, but Kurt doesn't care. It's his first tangible connection to Blaine Now, and he wants to remember it, wants to see it every day.

The end of the school day sees Kurt's excitement mounting, and he's surprisingly impatient to get through glee practice so he can head down to the Lima Bean.He knows Blaine didn't mean for it to be a date-he knows Blaine well enough to know if that were the case, the other boy would have said so-but he can't help feeling it's a step in the right direction. There can only be so much discussion through texts, and they've always truly connected when they had face-to-face conversations.

Kurt's rising good mood plummets when Mr. Schue's first announcement is that Puck got himself landed in Juvie. Kurt kicks himself for being so wrapped up in his thoughts of Blaine that he hadn't remembered to stop Puck from being an absolute idiot. But, it's too late to do anything about that now, and it's not like not stopping him has done any lasting harm; it just leaves the group with an odd number of singers, which normally wouldn't be a problem, except of course, this is when Mr. Schue decides to introduce duet singing into the mix. Honestly, Kurt wonders if the man has any foresight whatsoever sometimes. Or the ability to count.

Kurt doesn't lean over and tell Mercedes he thinks Sam's gay because of his hairstyle, because Now Kurt knows it's not true, and because Kurt isn't at all interested in Sam. In fact, he considers Sam a fairly good friend... or at least, he had been Before. And while Kurt knows that Sam would be fine singing a duet with him, he also knows a lot of other people wouldn't be, and he doesn't want to go through the hassle of arguing his point repeatedly, just to end up losing in the end.

So he does something decidedly different. When Mercedes quietly asks him, "Who're you gonna sing with, Kurt?" Kurt gives her a small smile. "I'm not sure yet. I need to talk to Mr. Schue about something. I'll text you later?" he asks as the club is disbanded.

Mr. Schue is writing something in his planner, so Kurt waits somewhat patiently for his attention. He does clear his throat, just to make sure Mr. Schue knows he's there.

"What can I do for you, Kurt?" Mr. Schue asks. He sounds a little hesitant, which doesn't really surprise Kurt; he and Mr. Schue rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, and his demands lately have pushed Mr. Schue to the edge a time or two.

So Kurt gives him a serene smile (which he knows tends to look condescending, but that's fine, because he's about to be condescending), and says, "Mr. Schue, I don't know if you happened to notice, but with the absence of Puck in the group and the addition of Sam, we no longer have an even number of singers. And while I applaud your enthusiasm in getting us to perform together, and thus helping to build our teamwork - while simultaneously pitting us against each other - I'm not sure how you expect one person to perform a duet." He internally grimaces at how that entire speech sounded a little too much like he was channeling Rachel Berry, but lets it go. Mr. Schue seems to go along with most of Rachel's suggestions-or she manages to browbeat him into agreeing-so he figures sounding like Rachel can't hurt too much. This time.

Mr. Schue looks surprised, then frowns. "Oh. Yeah, I guess you're right." He laughs in his self-deprecating way. "I guess I didn't think about that. I knew Sam would be joining us, but Puck's suspension was tossed at me right before class. Wow. I'd hate for one of you guys to be left out of the competition..."

Kurt smiles brightly at the perfect segue. "Fortunately, I have a solution! If you're alright with it, of course. I have a friend who's also a singer - he goes to a different school, and of course I haven't asked him about it yet, but if he agrees, would it be alright if he came in and helped me sing a duet? If we won, I wouldn't ask for you to pay for his dinner at Breadstix, since he's not officially part of the team, but-"

Mr. Schue waves that aside. "Don't worry about that. I'm fine with your friend coming in to help, and if you guys win, I'll treat both of you." He says it like it's a much bigger deal than just a dinner at Breadstix, and grins happily at Kurt.

Kurt returns the smile with one of relief. "Thank you very much, Mr. Schue. I'd better go, I'll let you know later if he's agreed to it."

He gets a text from Blaine as he's walking down the hall, wondering if he decided not to show up for coffee after all. And then a frowny face, which makes Kurt's heart leap into his throat, because apparently Blaine was looking forward to seeing him, despite Kurt only saying it was a possibility. Kurt sends back a quick reply, saying he'd had to stay late to speak to his teacher, and he's on his way now. 'For some strange reason, I've been in the mood for coffee all day.'he can't help adding. Normally he might add a winky face, but he doesn't want to seem too flirty. He has to keep reminding himself that no matter how much he knows Blaine and how comfortable he is with him, to Blaine, they've only seen each other the one time and only texted for three days. To Blaine, they're still virtual strangers.

It takes about fifteen minutes to drive through late afternoon traffic and get to the Lima Bean, but soon enough Kurt is standing impatiently in line, not-so-subtly craning his neck, looking for Blaine. Wishing, not for the first time, that the other boy were just a little bit taller.

"Looking for someone?" a playful voice asks off to the side, and Kurt whips his head around, already smiling before he even sees Blaine standing there. The two grin at each other for a moment, before Kurt remembers that Blaine asked him a question. "Not anymore." His eyes widen as he realizes yes, he really did just say that out loud. Kurt whips his head around to stare at the menu board, despite already planning on ordering his usual, and hoping Blaine won't notice the blush heating his face. Yeah, right.

Blaine chuckles as he settles into the line beside Kurt, despite holding a coffee cup already. "So, you're in a glee club? You like that?"

Kurt takes a deep breath, thinking of all the hardships he's gone through because of glee... and everything he's gained because of it, as well. And looking at it from that perspective, he really has glee to thank for meeting Blaine, doesn't he? Because if Puck hadn't suggested he spy on the Warblers, he'd never have had any reason to visit Dalton, and possibly never have met Blaine at all. Their paths might have crossed some other time, like he'd made sure they did here in the coffee shop, but... it was frightening, considering the 'what-ifs' of the past and future. "I do, really like it. I love to sing... even if I don't get the solos I so clearly deserve." He glances over with a haughty look at Blaine, holding it for a few seconds before smiling to show he's (mostly) joking.

Blaine laughs. "I'll bet you have an incredible voice. And hey, I'm sure someday you'll get plenty of solos." He pauses for a moment, seems to be thinking about something, then says, "I'm part of my school's a capella group, the Warblers?" His voice raises at the end like he's making it a question, asking maybe if Kurt's heard of them. Kurt raises his eyebrows as if he's surprised to learn this, and smiles. "We don't do all those crazy dance moves like I've seen other show choirs do, but it's a lot of fun. I love performing."

Kurt already knows all this, but he also loves listening to Blaine talk, and the more they talk about singing, the better chance he has of eventually mentioning that he needs a partner for his duet competition. So, barring when he orders his drink, he lets Blaine dominate the conversation, talking about music and performing, adding his own experiences when he feels like it, or can't hold something back. The conversation flows easily, and for a few minutes, Kurt can almost forget that he's not talking to hisBlaine. Except 'his' Blaine already knows everything Kurt is saying.

During a lull in the conversation, Kurt tilts his head and frowns a little, hoping it looks like he's just now thinking of something. He likes to think he's a great actor, but if anyone can see through him, it's Mercedes, and Blaine. Hopefully Blaine isn't quite that in tune with him yet. "Say..." he glances up briefly before looking back at his coffee lid for a moment. "We've got this competition coming up - strictly between our glee members - It's a duet competition, but due to... one of our members being an idiot, we've got an odd number of people, and of course, Iended up being the odd man out. Would... do you think you could sing with me?" He glances up at Blaine then, who looks surprised, but also thoughtful.

"Yeah, sounds like fun," Blaine finally says. "I mean, as long as it's alright with your coach, I'd be glad to help you out."

Kurt can't help but clap his hands and bounce in his chair in excitement. There was always the doubt that Blaine wouldn't agree, especially since he's never even heard Kurt sing before.

"So, did you already have a song in mind?" Blaine asks, leaning forward over the table a little, seeming very interested. "If you need help adjusting a single to a duet, I've got some experience with that sort of thing." He seems to catch himself and leans back, laughing a little. "The great thing about a capella, you learn how to break things up into harmonies."

Kurt smiles, but he knows it's not quite as happy-looking as it should be. He can't help but think of the last duet he sang with Blaine, and why Blaine had all but demanded that Kurt be his partner.

"Doing this duet...would just be an excuse to spend more time with you."

Shaking the memories away, Kurt forces his smile wider, more sincere. He knows Blaine's noticed, because he's got a small frown forming between his eyebrows. "Actually, I did have an idea about that. It's already a duet, but it may need some tweaking. And feel free to make any suggestions. It's... not really a well-known song, but I thought it would be... a good duet." He isn't going to tell Blaine just how appropriate the song is to their current situation, or Kurt's feelings for him.

Blaine's nodding in understanding, face clear of concern, and Kurt pushes away his bittersweet feelings of essentially having to rewrite his memories with Blaine. This is fine. This will be better. He'll make sure of it.

They agree to get together tomorrow, at Kurt's house, to work more on the song, since Blaine's not very familiar with it, and Kurt doesn't feel like giving an impromptu performance to the Lima Bean patrons.

He's completely forgotten he's supposed to text Mercedes, until just after six when he gets a very caps-locked text demanding to know what's going on, she's tired of waiting to hear all about it. He's not sure what 'it' refers to, but decides to just call her while he starts getting dinner ready.

He starts the conversation off with, "I'm on speakerphone in the kitchen, so whatever you say, remember my dad can potentially hear everything."

Mercedes growls in frustration, but she knows how it works, so finally sighs in agreement. "Boy, you had better tell me what's going on."

Kurt glances at his phone on the table while he starts to get his ingredients ready. "What do you mean? You make it sound like 'something's' been going on for a while."

"Well, hasn't it? You've been acting..." There's a sort of long pause, which makes Kurt hesitate in getting the cutting board out, and Mercedes voice changes from friendly accusation to reluctant. "You've been acting different, for a while now, Kurt."

Kurt licks his lips, even though he knows it dries them out, his breath turning slightly shallow. "What do you mean?" He makes sure his voice isn't sharp, but can't keep it from sounding breathy.

"You've been...quiet, lately, but...not like... not like while your dad was- was in the hospital, different than that." Mercedes rushes through the last part, as if it's not allowed to even mention it, which is actually understandable; the less he has to think about it, the better, even Now. "It's like you're just... watching, everybody. And sometimes you look...really sad, and I can't ever figure out why."

Kurt's so glad this is happening over the phone, so Mercedes can't see his face. As it is, he starts rinsing the carrots and potatoes to mask the hitch in his breath and the eventual sniffs he gives as he fights back a few tears. Even when he hasn't been thinking about Blaine, Kurt can't help but feel so incredibly alone, even moreso than just being the only out gay kid at school. He's so used to sharing things with Mercedes, and now there's this huge...thing that he can't tell her about. He can't tell anyone, even his normal confidantes of Mercedes, Blaine, or his dad. And sometimes it feels far too much like lying.

But of course, Kurt can't tell her any of that. So he opts for the other thing he's been keeping quiet about. Glancing quickly through the doorway to the living room, where his dad is "napping" (meaning passed out) in front of the television, Kurt sighs. "Okay, here's the deal. There's this guy-"

Mercedes, predictably, squeals, loud enough that Kurt finds himself frozen, staring into the living room, waiting for his dad to inevitably wake up and start rumbling about what that god-awful screeching is. Finally, after what seems like ages, Kurt lets out a large breath in relief. Then he glares at his cell phone, as if Mercedes will be able to somehow feel it if he tries hard enough.

"Oh my god! Kurt stage whispers furiously. "Are you trying to give him another heart attack?" He realizes a few seconds too late how strange it might sound for him to say something like that when it's barely been a week since his dad came home from the hospital, but to Kurt, its been five months, and he's had time to get used to everything; his father's brush with death is no longer the raw wound it had been for so long after it had happened.

"Sorry," Mercedes whispers back, and while it sounds sincere, she also sounds impatient, wanting to get back to the important part of the conversation. "There's a guy!" Her voice is still quiet, but obviously she's squealing in delight, and Kurt just has to smile at her genuine enthusiasm on his behalf. He really does have the best best friend in the world.

"Yes, there's a guy," he continues in a quiet, but normal-level speaking voice. He's trying to keep his voice calm, hoping Mercedes will follow his example (but knowing it won't work, because he knows Mercedes). "He goes to the Lima Bean sometimes, and I... he's really cute."

Mercedes squeals again, but thankfully it's quieter than before. "So? Have you talked to him yet?"

Kurt frowns. He's not that timid, is he? Yes, he was scared out of his mind when he did talk to Blaine, but that was because he knew just what was at stake. He wasn't that nervous when he'd met Blaine Before, at Dalton-oh, he'd been nervous, but it wasn't from talking to a cute boy. (Okay, not allfrom talking to a cute boy. Those nerves came later.)

"Yes, I talked to him," he says, trying not to sound too miffed. "I even asked him out-"

"Boy, you did what?" Mercedes shrieks happily.

Kurt rolls his eyes. "He turned me down." He's expecting the interruption this time, and isn't disappointed.

"He did what??" Her cry is righteously outraged on his behalf, this time. Kurt can't help but smile fondly at his friend's predictable reactions.

"Down, girl. He said he didn't know me, and he wasn't comfortable dating someone he doesn't know. So instead he suggested we get to know each other, and if we hit it off, then maybe we can date." Of course, Kurt knows they'll hit it off, so he'd agreed. Although... it doesn't really sound like the sort of thing the boy who serenaded someone with a racy sexual song after a couple coffee outtings would do. But then, he and Gap Boy had gotten to know each other over coffee, so maybe it did make sense. Which meant... that Kurt was now the equivalent of Gap Boy (minus the atrocious hair...and bad outfit). Maybe Blaine would serenade him this time. Only This Time, Blaine wouldn't get turned down by someone who was too old and too in-the-closet for him.

"So? Have you hit it off?"

Kurt thinks about the texts they've been sending all weekend, and their coffee non-date today, and Blaine coming over to practice the song tomorrow. "Yes," he says softly, "I think we're definitely hitting it off."

Kurt's nervous. Which is actually unusual for performing in front of New Directions. Usually he loves showing off his voice and talent to the other members of glee, and preening under the inevitable applause.

Today is different, though. He's walking down the hall with Blaine beside him, heading toward the choir room. They practiced for two days, and part of a third day, before Blaine had looked over at him and said, "Not that I'm complaining about spending time with you," which had made Kurt have to tamp down on a very pleased smile, "but I think we've got this. If we keep singing it, I'm gonna get sick of it." He'd paused, then smiled a little. "And I don't wanna get sick of it."

Now they're going to perform it one more time. They're going close to the end, since Blaine had to skip the end of class. When Kurt had suggested asking Mr. Schue if they could push the time back another half hour though, Blaine had just waved it off. "Don't worry about it. It's the end of one class, I've got someone I can borrow notes from- and I want to do this with you." He'd held Kurt's eyes as he said the last, and Kurt's breath had caught. It was a silly thing, but it meant so much to him that Blaine had said with you and not for you.

Everyone was already in the choir room when they arrived, and Kurt's nerves ramp up a notch. Other than Mercedes, this is the first anyone has really heard anything about Blaine. They've all been so involved in their own little dramas, no one realized that Kurt didn't have a partner from the group.

"Who's he?" Finn asks loudly, drawing everyone's attention and making Kurt pause by the piano. Raising his chin slightly, Kurt gives a slight smile. "This is Blaine. He's agreed to help me with my duet, since otherwise I wouldn't have a partner." Kurt stares squarely at Finn when he says this, which in turn makes Finn shift a little uncomfortably, looking confused. Kurt knows it's not really fair, since This Time Finn never even had the chance to tell Kurt he shouldn't do the duet with another boy - and even Before, Finn's main complaint was that he shouldn't perform with Sam. But even now, the memory stings, and Kurt can't quite help it.

"So you sing, Blaine?" Rachel asks, looking like she's trying to smile encouragingly, but not quite succeeding.

Blaine smiles easily enough as he answers, "Yeah, I'm part of the Warblers, from Dalton Academy."

"Ooh, yummy." This, of course, comes from Santana, who's giving Blaine a look that Kurt would only be able to describe as eye-sex. He has the sudden urge to tell Santana "Back off sister, he's mine." Which would not only be inappropriate at the moment, but also technically isn't true.

Mr. Schue might not know what Kurt is thinking, but he seems to sense that now would be a good time to rein everyone in. He steps forward, clapping his hands together and calling out, "Alright then! Let's give Kurt and Blaine our full attention, while they perform their duet."

They had decided to simply perform standing, turned slightly toward each other but still facing their audience. The setup is reminiscent to their performance of 'Candles' at Regionals. It gives Kurt something else to focus on, thinking about the last performance he did with Blaine, and how happy he'd been.

Kurt nods to Brad at the piano, who starts playing a gentle melody, and after a short intro, Blaine begins singing.

If I never knew you
if I never felt this love
I would have no inkling of
how precious life could be.

Blaine's smooth and rich voice washes over Kurt, and for a moment, he pretends everything is back the way it was Before, and he and Blaine are just singing another duet with each other.

And if I never held you
I would never have a clue
how at last I'd find in you
the missing part of me.

It's dangerous to think like that though, Kurt knows, because he could easily trip up and reveal too much. But Blaine is always so sincere when he sings, and even if they're singing for the audience, Blaine has always seemed to want to sing directly at Kurt, since the First Time they met.

In this world so full of fear
full of rage and lies
I can see the truth so clear
in your eyes, so dry your eyes.

Blaine actually takes a step toward Kurt, playing the role perfectly. He's still turning toward the audience occasionally, but Kurt can't help but think Blaine really is singing to him. It had been like this when they were practicing, too, but then they'd had no audience, and no other place tosing but toward each other.

And I'm so grateful to you
I'd have lived my whole life through
lost forever, if I never knew you.

And then it's Kurt's turn, and even though Blaine knows the song by heart now, and has heard Kurt sing it repeatedly, he can't help but stare at Blaine, trying to subtly convey how important this song is in regard to him.

If I never knew you
I'd be safe but half as real
never knowing I could feel
a love so strong and true.

I'm so grateful to you
I'd have lived my whole life through
lost forever, if I never knew you.

Blaine starts singing the next verse even before Kurt has finished drawing out the last word, their voices blending briefly together before falling away, singing lines back and forth before finishing the verse together.

I thought our love would be so beautiful,
Somehow we'd make the whole world bright,
I never knew that fear and hate could be so strong,
all they'd leave us were these whispers in the night.
But still my heart is saying we were right, oh~.

A duet wasn't just two voices blending together in harmony. As Mr. Schue had explained at the beginning of the week, it's when two voices come together and are capable of more than what they would have achieved alone. Kurt remembers singing Baby, It's Cold Outside with Blaine, and knew even Then that they were great duet partners. They perform just the same, possibly better, now, singing over and around each other, harmonizing beautifully.

if I never knew you
there's no moment I regret
if I never felt this love
since the moment that we met
I would have no inkling of
if our time has come to pass
how precious life can be~
I've lived at last

They're almost completely facing each other now, caught up in the roles of star-crossed lovers the song portrayed, singing their heartache.

I thought our love would be so beautiful
somehow we'd make the whole world bright

I thought our love would be so beautiful
we'd turn the darkness into light
and still my heart is saying we were right
we were right

and if I never knew you
if I never knew you
I'd have lived my whole life through~

empty as the sky
never knowing why
lost forever, if I never knew you

They draw the last notes out, still staring at each other. It isn't until the last piano chords fade away that Kurt turns-very reluctantly-toward the risers and their audience. He grabs Blaine's hand on impulse and gives a deep formal bow, pulling Blaine with him, who is only slightly slower before copying the move.

Everyone is clapping and cheering, and Kurt grins in pleasure. He glances over at Blaine, who turns to look at him with a wide smile that quickly turns into something softer, more intimate. It only lasts a second before Blaine squeezes their joined hands and grins again at him, but Kurt can't stop seeing that look. It hinted at feelings Blaine didn't-shouldn't, couldn't-have for him Now, Yet. It spoke of long conversations and shared joy and failure and heartbreak.

It said 'I know you.'

Coming Up Next Time: Kurt wonders, and hopes, and schemes. Blaine is distracted.

Let me know what you thought! I realize it seems like a cliffhanger (of sorts), but all will be revealed, definitely in the next chapter. I'm very interested to hear your thoughts! (Or incoherent squeals/curses, etc)