A/N: This is a complete series. Due to time constraints, I'll be posting half of it now (Saturday morning) and the rest of it tomorrow (Sunday afternoon). Enjoy. There's two chapters of Kurt/Blaine before the Puck/Kurt goodness.

Every morning when he got ready for school, Blaine packed himself away beneath his Dalton uniform and a palm-full of hair gel. He schooled his expressions, muted his personality. Whenever, in the normal course of his day, he felt like showing himself, he remembered what his father told him the day he left public school: "If you didn't flaunt it, you'd fit in so much better." His two years at Dalton had been a mixture of emotions. That he was bully-free was a blessing. That he could show off with the Warblers helped dissipate the feeling like he was suffocating beneath a sea of conformity (and that damn uniform tie). But every day, Blaine felt like he died a little inside, like he lost a little bit more of what made him unique.

And then, that day on the stairs when Kurt asked him for help, it was like color and sweet air. Blaine knew two things immediately: no way was Kurt a new student, and this boy was who he would have been, could have been, if he'd stayed and fought: more himself than he was now, and utterly miserable.

Even though Dalton had a no tolerance policy for bullying, it wasn't paradise and Blaine knew it. There were still acceptable standards of behavior, and Blaine felt like if he just helped Kurt through that he'd have an easier time adjusting. Okay, that was kind of a lie. What Blaine really thought was that if he helped save Kurt, he'd be saving himself, too. The plus side to all the help was getting to spend lots of time with Kurt because he liked Kurt. A lot. So of course he pretended that he didn't, pretended that they were nothing more than friends. He wouldn't have minded moving things along, maybe try his hand at dating, but he didn't want to ruin things. Hanging around with Kurt gave him something he'd never had before, something much more valuable than his first boyfriend: a true friend who was also gay. And, as the months went by, that seemed like it would be enough.

Once he adjusted to life at Dalton, Kurt started learning things about himself. Thanks to the uniform, and the decided lack of slushie facials and locker-slams, he didn't need to expend energy on fashion, fabulousness, and self-preservation. Instead, he learned that he liked feeling like one of the guys. He started speaking up in class, and working harder on his schoolwork. He'd never been a slouch academically, but being challenged by the teachers and coursework at Dalton made him want to step up and meet that challenge. He discovered that Chemistry was its own beautiful language, that he (surprisingly) liked Latin better than French, and that he was a good writer. When the Warblers ran an after-school chorus workshop in the lower school, Kurt realized that he really liked working with kids. Blaine started taking him to Columbus on Saturday mornings to volunteer with Project Angel Heart; afterwards they would go for lunch with some of the other volunteers, and once in a while they would stick around for open hours at the queer youth center. Kurt liked having that kind of connection with the gay community. Lots of the kids at the youth center were like him and Blaine, isolated and lonely during the week and charged with making a long drive from their hometowns to the city if they wanted to feel slightly less alone. On those nights, he and Blaine were frequently silent in the car on the way back to Dalton, letting their thoughts from the day settle around them.

Kurt knew that Blaine felt suffocated at Dalton, that he wished he could be more true to who he was. Conversely, after Christmas break Kurt began to feel more secure in himself. When he tried to explain it to Blaine, he had trouble finding the right words (something he got from his dad). Later, when he journaled about it for his writing class, the words flowed: The way I always acted in Lima was a shield. If I dressed to get attention and acted a certain way, all people would see was the surface Kurt. Nobody bothered to dig deeper because it appeared that I put my whole self out there for all to see. What I really did was keep my whole self safe by putting a tiny bit out there. The protection at Dalton exists beyond the no-tolerance policy. The expected conformity and the uniform, and even the way the Warblers are run, allow for all of us to dig beyond the surface. Instead of focusing on the little parts of ourselves, we have the time to really grow. I just wish I knew what I was protecting by hiding behind my clothes and personality, and who I was going to grow to be. He showed that to Blaine, finally, after his frustrated attempts to verbalize it again fell flat. Blaine had looked at him with compassion and understanding, and Kurt thought that maybe he had gotten it right after all.

Blaine spent the better part of winter and early spring hanging out with Kurt every chance he got. He watched Kurt grow more confident, and with that confidence came other changes: his friend's sometimes frenetic behavior calmed, his biting wit grew less caustic, and his honesty began to come through as genuine and kind rather than scathing. Most importantly, a look of deeper self-awareness relaxed his features. Kurt was gradually coming into his own. On their Saturdays in Columbus, the "old" Kurt was on full display, though a touch less dramatic. Blaine was the only one at Dalton who really got to see it, unless either of their roommates happened to be around when they were hanging out together. Which was why Blaine was so surprised when Kurt showed up at Warblers in dramatic black. And then he began to sing. Blaine wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but he knew that "Blackbird" wasn't it. Kurt's voice was maturing, his range broadening. The song suited his voice perfectly, and was unlike many of the songs Blaine had heard Kurt sing in the months they'd been friends. The boy could belt Broadway like nobody's business, and he still had enough falsetto to sing above Blaine when they performed impromptu duets to whatever was on iPods or radios in cars and dorm rooms. But Blaine had rarely heard Kurt's voice stripped down like this. It was like a sucker-punch, packed full of emotion that didn't shine through in more elaborate arrangements. As he listened to Kurt sing, as he watched while Kurt laid his heart bare, he just knew. He had to sing with him at regionals. And it was time to come clean.

The admission was surprisingly easy, coming as it did on the heels of the Warblers letting Blaine pick Kurt as a duet partner. He didn't sense that Kurt was surprised in the least; in fact, he thought he saw a flicker of relief cross Kurt's face in the instant before Blaine leaned over and kissed him. Blaine felt sheepish, after, and felt a soft blush creep from beneath his collar as he muttered "We should be practicing."

"I thought we were." An equal blush spread across Kurt's cheeks and jaw, which Blaine found instantly adorable. Seriously, what had he been waiting for?

The kiss was everything Kurt had been hoping for, everything his first kiss should have been. Everything Karofsky took from him against the cold metal and bright lights of the locker room that October morning. It was soft and gentle, and left him breathless and giddy with sweet anticipation. All of his senses were suddenly heightened. When he leaned in to kiss Blaine again, he could feel the subtle strength of Blaine's hand on his neck. He could smell a hint of dryer sheets mingling with shampoo and soap. Blaine's mouth tasted like spearmint gum with an undertone of coffee. He was warm and real and there, and Kurt knew with every heartbeat that his life had changed.

Being gay was something Kurt had always known about himself in a very abstract kind of way, like he knew that his dad loved him. Of course his dad had concrete ways of showing his love. But until he kissed Blaine (or Blaine kissed him) he had never felt so personally connected to his sexuality. It had always been something he was, but now it was, irrevocably, who he was. He could almost feel the tiny floating pieces of the Kurt Hummel puzzle clicking into place. When he broke away from the kiss to catch his breath a second time, he ran his hand awkwardly through his hair. It was at once a foreign gesture and the most natural movement in the world. And better yet, it made Blaine smile. Kurt loved that unguarded smile, the same one Blaine wore during Warblers performances, while hanging out with Kurt, or joking with the other volunteers in the kitchen on Saturday mornings.

During the week, as they practiced both kissing and their duet, Kurt got to see more of that smile. It warmed him to the tips of his toes every time. Backstage at Regionals, when the thought he would keel over from nervousness, that smile kept him standing. Standing in the lights as the guys started the intro, he closed his eyes briefly. "Just breathe," he told himself, and stepped out into the spotlight. His voice felt open and clear as he began: The power lines went out and I am all alone, but I don't really care at all, not answering my phone. Then Blaine was there and nobody else existed. After the last note died away and the applause began, the spell was broken. Kurt felt a little outside of himself during "Raise your Glass" and he struggled to keep up with the dancing because he so enjoyed watching Blaine let loose during the performance. Too soon, though, it was over. Mercedes and Rachel gathered him in hugs backstage.

"Why didn't you tell us you had a solo? Why was Blaine looking at you like that? Why were you looking at Blaine like that? Dude, you made Puckerman cry." The McKinley whirlwind passed him by in snippets of conversations unfinished as his friends gathered for their warm-up and Blaine was there again, ushering him into the auditorium and towards their seats. They held hands while they cheered for New Directions, and held hands backstage waiting for the judges, and onstage when New Directions won. They held hands in silence on the bus back to Dalton. After Blaine helped him bury Pavarotti, they held hands on the walk back to Kurt's room. Through all of it, he carried a lump in his throat that he recognized as a jumble of emotions he couldn't quite name. Only later, in the darkened silence of his dorm room, did Kurt grieve. He cried silent tears for Pavarotti, for the loss of his chance to go to Nationals, for friends who had always just accepted him and a boyfriend (a boyfriend!) who chose him. He cried for the little boy he had been and the man he knew he was becoming. He cried from the brilliant relief that came with having someone who cared for him, who wasn't afraid to touch him and sing with him and look at him and really see him for who he was.

In the morning, he awoke renewed. And he knew what he had to do.