o~o~o

I wipe the back of a tremulous hand over my wet cheeks, gathering the miserable tears that I hadn't meant to let fall under my fingers; then I scoop them away from my face like a snow-plough. I move and trace my shuddering fingertips over damp, matted eyelashes and it's while I'm doing this, as I'm trying to wipe away my sadness, that I realise my chest is full to the brim with a bitter combination of disappointment and wretchedness. It wasn't supposed to be like this, not really, coming to school was never supposed to hurt like this, or make my insides feel so damn heavy.

I think I made my first mistake when I actually started to believe that it could be okay for me here, but now I see that I was wrong about that - very wrong. In fact, now that I'm really thinking about it, I don't know how I could have been so blatantly stupid; or brainless enough to imagine that the people here wouldn't hate me for being myself - even a filtered version of myself - or that they'd somehow be indifferent towards me. I mean, my own father hated me, didn't he? He probably still hates me, and if he couldn't love me, or even grow to like me, how could I have expected these people, these complete strangers, to welcome me or at least let me get on with my life? I feel like such a misguided fool.

I know that this isn't right - it isn't right that I feel this way, or that the people sitting behind me right now are making me feel so uncomfortable, but this is the way it is - though, recognising it doesn't make it hurt any less. And it does hurt. It hurts so much right now but I think what hurts the most is the fact that I had so many high hopes pinned on this working out for me. I have so many milestones waiting for me to reach and this, this school being okay, would have made it all so much easier for me. But, clearly, it wasn't meant to be because even though they're not whispering hateful things at me right now, or shooting bits of spit covered paper into my hair, I can still hear them talking heatedly about me, about Kurt, and that just breaks my heart. That is what hurts me the most.

Listening to them talk about Kurt like that, like he's nothing - like they wouldn't even piss on him if he was on fire - wounds me in a way I hadn't quite anticipated but I know why it stings so much; it stings because Kurt is absolutely everything to me. Everything. But it's like his whole existence is one big practical joke here - like he's a colossal punch line relayed repetitively to a gathering mob of narrow-minded diehards to trigger their automatic applause, their mechanical laughter and their systematic standing ovation. And it makes me sick, all of it; it makes me feel so overwhelmingly sad. I just don't understand how they can remain so consistently blind to the unbridled beauty that just bursts out of Kurt, or why they can't recognise that he's a wonderful, generous human being who's filled with so much passion and love and humility. Perhaps it's because there's not an ounce of humility in them - I'm not sure and I don't pretend to know what they're thinking, because I don't - but these people, these jocks, seem so blinded by their own hate and by their dangerous detestation for everything that challenges their set-in-stone ideals, that I almost pity them.

I take another moment then, to wipe gently at my eyes - as I feel more lost, lukewarm tears slipping down the gentle curves of my cheeks. Purposefully keeping my movements as discrete as I physically can as I push them away - in the vague hope that my tormentors might remain oblivious to the obvious upset they're causing me - but that doesn't work, not this time. It's less than a second after I've pulled my hand down that I begin to hear their expectant and excited whispering - their fires seemingly lit anew - and I genuinely begin to wonder how they can take so much noticeable pleasure in doing this to me; in hurting me in the way that they are.

"Aww, guys, look at him!" A boy from behind me laughs carelessly, "He's actually crying." I can feel my face scrunching up then - as a new storm of humiliation starts to whirl around inside of my chest and I need them to stop doing this to me, I really, really do. Even though they don't quite understand what's at stake here I need them to find a shred of human decency and stop. Though, when has my wanting people to stop hurting me actually mattered? It hasn't.

"He's just like Hummel." Another boy continues coldly and more than a little unpleasantly, "Oh, man, did he love to cry. What an attention seeking little bitch that faggot was." He spits nastily, his hate filled words sinking in as I press my fingertips harshly into my thighs and my vision starts to blur. I just need them to leave me alone.

"I bet our newest speck of fairy dust is ass-fucking that girly faggot." Someone else reasons unkindly and that stings me, in fact, that hurts me so badly that my breath catches clumsily on it's way out of my body and an desperate hitched noise tumbles out past my lips. But even that heart pounding demonstration of pain isn't enough to stop them, nothing seems to stop them, not now, not now that they're enjoying this so much; not now they've realised that they can make me feel so powerless; so easily.

"Ha! And Hummel would be like, 'Oh, p-please, B-blaine, it h-hurts too much! Your little dick is just t-too much for my t-tight l-little ass!'" Another boy mocks cruelly and the tears begin to slip down my face again in quick succession. One after another, after another, after another. My fingernails digging harshly into the flesh of my palms as my bent wrist push awkwardly against the denim of my jeans. They shouldn't be saying that, they shouldn't be mocking us in that way, it's wrong. Shit, this whole thing is so wrong but now all I can think about is Kurt hurting in that way and it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. It would never, never, do that to him. I love Kurt. I love him. My head sinks forward, as I struggle to control my emotions, my teeth biting down at my bottom lip painfully, though, there just isn't enough pain in the world to make the bad feeling that I now have in my heart go away.

Just breathe. I have to remind myself.

"It's fucking disgusting!" A boy snarls viciously then and I flinch.

"I mean, you shit out of that hole." Another growls maliciously and I can feel my fingernails breaking the skin of my palms now. I can feel the skin give under the pressure and it's almost a relief. I wipe the back of one of my hands across my eyes and I let my shoulders shake. I just can't stop it anymore.

"Those fucking perverts deserve everything they get!" Someone declares then and every single word sounds so full of conviction that my eyes fly wide open as my lips fall apart and a gasp escapes me. It happens again, only seconds later, when another voice says, "Every fucking beating. That have it coming."

They don't know. I have to remind myself quickly, They don't know what your father did to you.

"It's fucking filthy, huh, Karofsky?" A boy asks searchingly and I suddenly realise that Karofsky hasn't actually said a word to me without prompting. He only joins in with his friends in mocking me and teasing me and hurting me when they directly involve him. I'm not absolving him here because he has said some horrible things to me today and done so many horrible things to Kurt, but for a split second I just hope that he wont say anything, not this time. This is a chance for him to stand up.

"Please." I whisper almost inaudibly, knowing he could never realistically hear me, "Please, don't."

There's a moment that follows my whispered plea then, a heart-stopping moment, a moment where the world seems to become so suddenly quiet that I can actually hear my own heart beating. A moment where I know that if I truly listened I could here his heart beating too because even though he's clearly the ringleader of his little friends, I know who he really is. I know what he is. And I know that deep down inside of himself he can't possibly want this. He just can't.

So, I wait.

And then..

"Yeah, man, it's horrible." he says carefully and my world just seems to collapse in on itself and I want to scream at him, I want to ask him why he's being such a coward but before I can do so much as draw breath he adds bitterly, "Fucking fags." And then I know that he's in way too deep.

"Fucking fags!" They all repeat back easily and more than it hurts me, it breaks my heart because I realise instantly that we're the same in a way, Karofsky and I. Neither of us can be who we really are and we're both just trying to survive. And if he hadn't hurt Kurt in the way he did, or if he hadn't terrorised my best friend, or if he hadn't stolen away his first kiss, I think that maybe we could have been friends.

I close my eyes then as they repeat their hateful slurs, until forced creases are marking the corners of my eyes, and I draw my bottom lip sharply between my teeth, wincing at the sting as I catch the soft flesh - hoping to silence the sob that's been aching and building deep inside of my chest for release. And when a tiny squeak does leave my throat, despite my best efforts, I shrink back into myself automatically and I let my face fall heavily into my palms, so that I'm hidden away from them all - akin to a child hoping that when their eyes are covered they become invisible to the world- my fingertips edging steadily into my hair as my elbows press tightly against the wood of the desk, and I just sit there and I wish the bad feelings away, I wish the bad people away, in fact, I wish it all away. But there are not enough stars in the sky.

There are not enough stars to make this feel right again.

Right now, I just feel so incredibly and so unbelievably useless that I wish I'd stayed locked away in Kurt's room. I don't even have it in me to turn around and tell them all to shut up, to make sure they know that I hate them for everything they're saying about the boy I love and about me and about Karofsky, their friend, but I can't.. I just can't and that makes me feel so damned awful. I feel like I'm betraying Kurt in some huge way as I sit here and I cry so hopelessly into my sleeves, but I don't know what else to do because no one is helping me here; no one but Mike is even trying to help me. This is a big class, there are at least forty people crammed into this tiny classroom and all of them are turning a blind eye to this. All of them can hear what they're saying about me, about Kurt, about people who just happen to be gay and no one has a thing to say about it. No one has the courage to stand up for me, for people like me, and say to them: 'Just stop this.' Not even our teacher.

I feel Mike lay a soft hand on the centre of my back then, as a silent sob shudders up through my body and shakes out though my shoulders but he's just not enough. He's trying so hard to be what I need him to be but he simply doesn't know what I need. What I need right now is Kurt. I need Kurt to look me in the eye and tell me that I'm okay, I need him to hold my hands in front of all of these bastards and tell me that we're okay, though, at the same time, I don't want Kurt coming anywhere near this place, or anywhere near these people, or anywhere near the sheer indignation that these people clearly hold for me; for both of us.

More than ever, I want Kurt to stay safe at Dalton - with our rambunctious friends and those stupid impromptu performances and those untimely meetings and those ridiculous sleepovers that occur at the end of every single semester. That sense of family and belonging, that is what I want Kurt to have. Not this. I don't want him trapped in this chaos anymore.

I'm still slightly lost in the almost-comforting thought of Kurt tucked away safely at Dalton, when I feel something small hit the back of my head. I cringe and then I peek through my hands, just in time to watch Mike shift in his seat next to me and carry a hand carefully to my hair. Pulling something away quickly and then returning the palm of his hand to its position at my back. His fingers softly drumming against my spine and then I'm suddenly overwhelmed again. I just don't feel safe here. This isn't safe.

Thankfully, it's not long before the class bell rings out, signalling the long awaited end of the period, and just like that my first class is over and everyone around me starts to file out of the room - heading to the door in unplanned lines like little rows of ants on a mission. Like nothing ever happened.

I let a low, heavy sigh roll out of my body then, surprising myself with how exhausted I actually sound, before I reach a quick hand up, and run it over my hair - tossing away four tiny, spit-covered balls of paper, that Mike must had missed, in utter disgust.

Mike. I can't look at him, I can't even bring myself to turn my head and look at him because for the past hour and a half he has tried, so hard, to keep them all at bay- barely looking at the textbook in front of him, barely answering the set questions we'd been given; remaining half-turned in his chair the entire time and so utterly desperate to help me, to do something, but he couldn't. Let's be honest here, ten against two is never the best of standings - even less so when one of the two is sporadically spattering his textbook with tears. We never stood a chance. I never stood a chance.

It's then, as the classroom is completely emptied of sound, that I realise that I could sit here all day and just cry to myself if I really wanted to. I could just stay in here and think about everything in relative safety, though, I'm sure there must be other jocks passing through here today, just not the smartest of them, and it doesn't matter anyway because that idea is soon thrust out of my head when a woman, a woman who calls herself our teacher, finally looks up at us from the laptop she's been overwhelmingly absorbed in for the entirety of the lesson and says clinically, "Boys, hurry up! Bring me your papers and go to your next class before I have to report you."

I just stare up at her in disbelief, my pounding head struggling to process her words, but it sets something off in Mike. Something big. I watch him shyly then, from behind my eyelashes, still feeling horrifically embarrassed by my breakdown, as he moves quickly out of his seat, grabs his work with extremely clumsy hands and places my blank sheet of paper under his. My eyes catch his briefly before I sink my chin down to avoid his gaze and he storms towards the teachers desk. His heavy footsteps reverberating powerfully throughout the room.

I watch through sore eyes as he slams the paper down with enough force to make both me flinch and the teacher jumps. I instinctively tuck my right hand under my thigh, hoping to hide the tremor that's started shaking it violently, and I try to focus on my breathing, just like Ellen taught me to. I stare at the scene in front of me with increasingly large eyes as the teacher's head snaps up, her darkening expression burning bitterly into Mike. He doesn't react, he waits.

"Mr Chang!" The teacher, who's name I haven't even been told, barks out in surprise, "What do you think you're doing?"

Mike just shakes his head - in what is unmistakably disbelief - and opens his mouth, holding his ground fearlessly as he bites, "What do I think I'm doing? What are you doing?" He growls then, marching away from her desk, his face clouded with a muddied mixture anger and revulsion. It makes me a little nervous, if I'm being completely honest. I just don't know Mike that well, I don't quite know what to expect from him.

There's a hesitant silence then, as Mike makes his way back towards me and sits on top of the desk we've shared with ease, pausing momentarily before he lays a soft hand on my back again. I tense a little this time but my reaction doesn't stop him from rubbing his palm soothingly between my shoulder blades. I glance at him quickly then, still a little unsure of his touch, and I register the worry and concern on his face. His anger has completely dissolved.

He was never angry with you, you know that, Blaine. I have to remind myself. He's your friend.

When I do force myself to look up at him, I notice that he's staring at something, worry lines etched deeply into his forehead, I follow his gaze easily and it leads me to the hand that's wedged securely under my leg. Mike opens his mouth to speak then, his eyebrows drawing together in concern when he realises that I'm staring at him, staring at me. Though, Mike doesn't get a chance to form the words that are balancing on the tip of his tongue because our teacher gets there first. Her nasty huff cutting straight through the air and breaking the fragile moment that had hung so delicately between Mike and I, "Maybe," she starts vindictively, "This new boy is a bad example on you, Mike. You only answered two of the questions today. It's a little disappointing…" She trails off lightly and I can feel Mike tense, his hand stilling against my back. He suddenly looks so angry again, in fact, he looks furious but this time I trust him, I trust that it's not me. There's a passion burning in his eyes now, there's absolutely unhindered determination bubbling away, and it's something like I've seen in Puck and I can trust that. I'm used to trusting that.

"Come on, we're leaving." Mike whispers lowly at me then, obviously trying to smooth the tension out of his voice for me, moving and pulling his bag over his shoulders before unconsciously offering me a hand. I quickly stuff the textbook lying on the desk into my bag and I look at Mike's outstretched limb for a while, uncertain of what it actually means. Unsure of what I'm expected to do. Mike waves his fingers a little, as if to clarify, and I hesitantly reach out to take it. His hands are so warm and he has to have noticed my hand shuddering away but he doesn't say anything about it, he just gives it a gentle squeeze. Then he pulls me easily to my feet and I expect him to drop my hand but he doesn't, he doesn't even try to let it go.

"Mike.." I whisper timidly but he shakes his head firmly. He's telling me that it's okay, if I want it to be okay - because I can clearly see the question there, the opportunity to pull my hand away and separate us. I don't do anything.

We march to the front of the classroom then and towards the teachers desk, well, Mike tries to march us to the front of the classroom but my body just isn't co-ordinating properly and so I end up practically leaning into him as we move between the desks that lie in our way.

Mike stops us in front of the teacher, waiting until she looks up at us, her eyes filled with annoyance, before he says, "One day you will look back and you will realise that today is the day that you failed as a teacher. When you just sat here and you let them say all of those things to Blaine," he squeezes my hand, "Those horrible, hateful things - that I know you could hear from here - you failed him and you failed me and you failed yourself."

There's a surprising pause then before Mike adds definitively, "We're not coming back into to this classroom." I look over at him in confusion, through eyes that are still stinging from crying, as he says, "We're transferring to another class, effective immediately." With a surprisingly sense of calm.

The teacher, Miss Landy, her desk says, stares up at Mike and I almost nervously but she knows, we all know, that she can't disagree with what he's saying because she knows that Mike is right. So, all she can offer, in a last minute bid to keep us, is, "But this is the only high level English class at this school…"

I can feel Mike shrug casually, "Then maybe I'm one step below where I was academically this morning, so what? At least I know that I didn't slide down the scale of human decency." And with that we're gone and we're out into the bustling hallway before I can even comprehend that we've moved.

I want to pull my hand away from his then - and I do actually try to - because I don't want him getting into any trouble because of me but I can't, he won't let go, and I can't really pull my hand away properly because my head is still absolutely spinning. I can't think straight, at all, and my brain is refusing to work with my body and suddenly, I realise that I'm only one or two false moves away from having my father charging at me with his horrible, heavy hands and his sour, stagnant breath.

Mike must sense something's wrong. Though I'm not entirely sure which of my forty pre-existing signs gives me away this time.

"You're okay." he whispers softly, as people begin to stare at us and I try to move away from him, so that I'm walking behind him, but our linked hands make it all look so incredibly awkward and it doesn't quite work out. I stumble over my own feet then and he stops walking to make sure that I'm okay before he squeezes my hand tightly and we start walking again, his voice low but firm, "It's okay. You're not gong back there. I promise you." And I just hope that his promises mean something because they seem to and I choose to have a faith in him, and our new friendship, I choose to believe in that.

We're surrounded by empty hallways and closed doors when I finally come to my senses enough to realise that Mike hasn't taken us directly to gym class. I don't say anything though, I just continue to follow his lead and eventually we end up at a door marked 'School Office'. He walks us straight up to the desk and he calmly requests a class transfer for us both before he gently demands to see Principal Figgins.

I continue to follow Mike's lead as we fill out countless forms and once we're done the sweet old lady behind the desk, who keeps shooting soft glances at me, explains that they'll have to check with our parents first to make sure it's okay. That instantly unleashes a new sense of panic within me and I'm suddenly very worried that they'll phone my father - but then I remember that Burt is written down as my guardian and I relax. Burt. I could really do with seeing his face right about now.

"Thank you." Mike says sweetly, as he hands her the pens back and then he leads me a little further down a corridor; to a row of plastic chairs and then tells me to sit down, if you want to, I mean, you don't look too steady right now. I like that he keeps giving me choices, I like that he lets me decide for myself. I sit down and Mike sits down next to me and there's barely thirty seconds of comfortable silence between us before a door opens and a man I recognise a Principal Figgins says, "Mr. Chang! Mr. Anderson! What can I do for you?"

"I need to report a teacher." Mike says quickly, almost nervously, and Principal Figgins' smile falters a little before he says, "You should come inside."

Mike looks back at me then and says, "Will you be okay out here by yourself?" I nod automatically and then I watch them both vanish.

It's probably about ten minutes before Mike walks out of the office and tilts his head slightly at me, a soft smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, as he says, "It's sorted, it's all okay." I nod once in understanding, not wanting the details, but I can't quite look at him and I don't know why.

He moves to sit down next to me then, waiting for a couple of minutes before saying, incredibly sincerely, "I'm sorry you had to listen to them saying those things about you, and about Kurt, that wasn't right."

"You didn't say it; you don't owe me anything." I whisper almost inaudibly, something tightening deep in my chest, and when I glance over at him he's looking at me so desperately. His eyes letting me know that he was out of his depth and that he was a little too overwhelmed too and that I wasn't as alone in that room as I initially believed I was. He was right there with me.

"Blaine, your hands." Mike says suddenly, pointing downwards. I follow his pointing finger to my palms and I notice the crescent shaped cuts marking my flesh. The damage my own fingernails did, I shrug it off quickly, "I've had much worse." There's a silence then. A silence that allows him time to process what I mean.

"I didn't know how to stop them." Mike confesses quietly, almost painfully, and I just nod because I can understand how he's feeling, "But you tried, Mike." I offer, testing his name on my tongue.

"Blaine, I'm so sorry." He repeats and I reach out hand automatically before I realise what I'm doing and I pull it back, feeling incredibly uneasy, only for Mike to pick it up mere seconds later. And I can see it click, I can actually see him understand, he gets that this, this simple touch of fingertips, is how I feel safe. He squeezes my fingers with his then and I smile over at him.

Today I made a good friend and his name is Mike Chang.

o~o~o

When Mike and I walk into the locker room there's no one in sight - there's just dozens of lockers closed tightly with corners of clothes and shoe laces peeking out - and it's clear enough from that, people have been here recently. I assume that they're all outside now - changed into their exercise appropriate attire and running warm-up laps - in preparation for whatever activity it is that the Coach has planned for us. I just hope that whatever it is isn't too strenuous because I'm not entirely convinced that my head wont explode.

I'm still feeling a little emotional and a little sensitive; so I try to find things to focus on - just like Ellen had taught me to, for when I feel trapped in that confusing mid-world between grounded reality and flashback - things like the quarter gleaming up at me from the floor or the solitary shoe that's half-hidden under a bench. Though, before I get too lost in my slightly adjusted game of I-Spy, the door that leads directly to the playing field swings open and Puck and Finn walk in. They're talking quietly to one another, sharing unreadable glances, only stopping when they look up and see Mike and I looking back at them.

"There you are!" Puck says quickly, "I was getting really worried about you." He offers and I know that he means it, it's not just talk, there is not a single doubt in my mind that he was actually worried about me, after all, that seems to be what he does.

"Here we are!" I say, almost too quietly, trying to sound enthusiastic but the happiness I'm trying to convey doesn't quite coming through. I can hear that much for myself and it's made all the more obvious by the way Puck's face changes.

"What's going on?" He asks then, slowly and so carefully, his face shifting and morphing into something near apprehension. I try to say I'm fine, really but when Puck reaches out to touch my shoulder and I flinch I wonder why I thought I could lie to him in the first place. This is Puck. The boy who does nothing by halves. He pulls his fingers back from me then, like the tips are on fire and it's like the night we met, all over again.

"Hey, no, come on. What happened to you?" He asks softly - in that voice - that soft, reassuring, I'm right here with you, Blaine voice and I just can't do this. It's not like he wont find out that I've just spent an hour and a half crying as our peers picked away at me like famished vultures anyway. So, I shake my head, outstretch my arms like a child and whisper the name of one of the nicest people I have ever met, "Puck."

He automatically moves forward then and wraps his hands around my body, he doesn't even hesitate, even after my flinch, and that's why I adore him. He's not afraid to do this because, just like Kurt, he can read me. He knows me - not in the same way Kurt knows me but in a way which means that he knows what's happening to me, in my head, and how everything is so scary and huge and surprisingly new to me right now. He understands how fragile I feel.

"What did they do to you?" Puck asks gently, so gently, like he's giving me an option when this time he really isn't, because this is important, and I'm reminded of those times he begged me to tell him if I was hurt over the phone. When he pleaded with me to tell him if I needed an ambulance after my father had choked me. That memory just makes grip him tighter, my fingers gripping at his shirt as his words run through my head. We may not have known each other for long but we've been through a lot together. I don't know what to say to him, so, I just say what I feel, that's never led me astray, not with him, so I whisper against his neck, emotion flooding me, "Puck, they hate me."

It's Mike who talks next, it's Mike who becomes my voice and fills in the gaps that would torment Puck otherwise, "They wouldn't leave him alone." he starts, "The entire lesson they just pushed and prodded and poked and called him horrible, horrible names. And I just.. I didn't know how to make it stop, I couldn't make it stop." Mike finishes quietly, like he's done something drastically wrong and when I do finally pull away from Puck it's with the express intention of saying something to Mike. Something extremely soft and awfully cliché, something like: Mike, really, it's not you, it me.

I don't get the opportunity to say anything, though, because Puck puts one of his hands on my face and stops my head from turning, his eyes searching mine desperately with concern. But what he finds there doesn't satisfy him, I know it doesn't, I can see it in his face, in the way that his posture changes, I can see him looking into my eyes and then him just suddenly knowing everything that I feel. The hard things that I can't quite put into words. I watch as his eyes darken in front of me, my heart pounding heavily as he runs a thumb over my cheek and says very, very carefully, "Please, don't hate me, I'm not like them."

And with that he charges outside.

"Wait, Puck! No!" Finn calls loudly, chasing after his friend like he knows what's about to happen and he probably does. It's clear enough that Puck's going out there to pick a fight. Mike and I follow them in a somewhat unsure way, he pushes the door open to let me through and then reaches a hand down to links our fingers as we take in the scene before us. Mike still doesn't quite know what that gesture means to me, but he knows it means a lot, and I would have spent more time feeling grateful for that, I really would have, but it's kind of hard to stay focused on particular feelings when you can see your friend running straight towards the group of jocks who've only just finished reducing you to tears. They're no more than twenty feet away from us now.

"What the fuck, Karofsky?" Puck shouts then, shoving the taller, broader boy square in the chest. And I want to say something quickly, like: Puck, it's not him, not really, it's them! But I can't because as I watch his hands hit Karofsky's chest again and again I have a horrific moment of absolute realisation. I suddenly understand that this is how Puck fought against his father. This is how he fought back. I take a step backwards then and shake my head because it's completely staggering.

Mike throws me a quick glance and squeezes my hand but the tears are already forming in my eyes and my vision is already blurring again because this, this fighting back, this is a snapshot of Puck's childhood. While other people have family photographs at the beach, Puck and I, we have this. I look at Finn then and he has a look of absolute concern plastered on his face as he watches his best friend pushing Karofsky in the chest again and again and again and again. Like he's seen this a thousand times. And I know now that he has.

"You don't touch him, Karofsky. Are we fucking clear here because I can make it clearer?" Puck snarls his fists falling to his sides and curling quickly. He's in fight mode. Karofsky looks puzzled for a while, until he looks around and he sees me, he's their leader and even if he doesn't want to do this he has to do it now - Puck has just thrown the gauntlet down before him and he can't ignore that. He can't afford to look weak. He's worked too hard on pretending.

His whole body changes then - he gets taller, moves his hands to his hips to make himself wider, tilts his head slightly in defiance. He's saying that he's not afraid but I want to run over there, grab him by the shoulders and say: Yes, you are! You are afraid. You're afraid of yourself. You're afraid of your friends. But I don't move, I don't even try to. I can barely believe that this is happening.

"I'll do what I want to do." Karofsky bites out firmly, baring his teeth slightly but Puck's not afraid of him, why should he be, he's fought harder before, he's battled his own personal Goliath and won.

"Fine, do whatever you want - I don't actually give a shit - but not with him. You don't go near him." Puck says protectively, as I draw my bottom lip between my teeth. I don't like this. My heart is thundering in my chest now. Like my human heart has somehow been replaced with that of a rabbit. I never knew that a human heart could beat as fast mine is in this moment.

"What? Do you love him or something? Is our little fuck-up, Noah Puckerman, in love with baby Hummel's butt boy?" Karofsky mocks and I know that there's no backing out now. Karofsky has just made this incredibly personal.

Puck doesn't even blink.

"Yeah, I do. I love him and I'm not so backwards that I can't say that out loud. Liking someone, loving someone, in which ever way you choose to, isn't fucking shameful. I don't know why you think you get to go around judging people for feeling something more than indifference or hatred. It's a really fucking shitty thing to do." Puck shouts in his face and I'm left with my palm pressed firmly against Mike's - trying to wrap my head around the fact that Puck just told a group of neanderthal jocks that he loves me. And I love him too, I do, he's perfect, just.. not like this. Not fighting. I don't want him fighting. I can't handle that.

My body shudders.

"Oh! I didn't know you were a fag too, Puckerman. Do you look at us in the shower too? Like that faggy coward Hummel did, it's fucking sick!" he spits nastily - though even from here I can see something in Karofsky's face, something that doesn't quite match his words.

"HEY!" Finn shouts then, drawing everyone's attention, "What did you just call my brother?"

"A coward." One of Karofsky's friends declares spitefully and I know that voice, I look at him, he's the one who mocked Kurt, he's the boy who laughed at the idea of my best friend, my future boyfriend, being in pain, in that way.

"He is not a coward!" Finn starts aggressively, dragging my focus to him, and suddenly it's Puck's turn to hold his friend back, a hand wrapped tightly around his bicep, Finn looks ready to lunge, "He was just one tiny kid and all of you, you made his life hell! You made him so scared sometimes but he never ever let that show and you know what, yeah, he did leave his piece of shit school but YOU are the cowards! It took you all years of yelling and pushing and shoving and name-calling to get what you wanted. So, whatever you say, I think he's brave, in fact, I think he's really damn strong. I'm proud to call him my brother and my friend and I think you're all just jealous because he's worth far more than all of you assholes put together!" Finn finishes boldly and I have never seen such protective passion in him.

"Assholes." Karofsky's friend laughs lightly, "Hummel likes those, huh? Just like that fucking faggot clinging to Chang like a lost lamb." He looks over at me and my skin crawls.

"Hey, you leave him alone!" Finn shouts quickly, springing to my defence.

"Look, what's your fucking point, Karofsky?" Puck bites out darkly, standing in front of him.

"My point is that it's fucking disgusting and it's wrong?" the taller boy replies and I have to remind myself of everything Ellen has taught me in a flash.

Breathe, Blaine, come on, you can do this. I say over and over again; trying to focus on the air entering and exiting my body rather than the confusion that's starting to steadily cloud my mind.

You're stronger than this. You're not wrong. You're perfect. You're not wrong. You're perfect. I remind myself quickly, but the fear of knowing that the ghost of my father could appear any minute is easily as great as the fear of this situation itself and, right now, that just isn't helping me out.

"Okay, here's the deal, and all of you better listen the fuck up because I will not be repeating myself." Puck demands, finally releasing his grip on a slightly calmer Finn, "There is nothing - and I mean nothing - wrong with Blaine or Kurt or anyone falling in love with someone of their own gender. Do you understand me? Not a single fucking thing! So, shut your horrible fucking mouths, right now, before I rip all of your fucking jaws off." Puck snarls dangerously, I cringe and I take another step backwards, my eyes closing tightly. I can feel Mike moving in front of me, his hands on my shoulders, "Blaine? Are you okay?"

I just shake my head, no, and listen to my friend fighting for me as warm tears spill over my eyelids and run down my face. This is too much, I just can't handle this.

"Yeah?" I hear Karofsky challenge roughly.

"Oh, yeah. Just push me, once more, I fucking dare you." Puck all but growls.

"See, I think you're bluffing because your latest faggot is practically crying over there and, as you love him so shamelessly, you fucking queer, I don't think you want to hurt his precious little rainbow feelings.." Karofsky says confidently, earning noises of hasty agreement from his friends.

"I could end you-" Puck threatens coldly and he has never sounded so dangerous.

"But, what, you're too chicken?" Karofsky mocks aggressively.

"No! But Blaine is too important for me to screw things up. Especially by getting into fights with people who talk a whole load of shit but have nothing to back themselves up with." Puck says, the tension in his voice more than evident but I'm suddenly proud of him because he's backing away, for me, because he knows me and he cares and he knows that I can't do this. I can't stand here and watch him take part in a physical fight because I need him too much. My eyes flutter open in a rare moment of complete silence.

"Ha!" Karofsky mocks loudly and I realise that Mike is standing right in front of me. I wipe my tears away and I try to silently reassure him, to tell him that I'm okay. He nods eventually and moves to stand next to me again, his arm wrapping around my shoulders comfortably and just in time to hear Karofsky say, "So, what, you're just going to walk away, just like that?"

"Oh, no. I have something to say first." Puck says lowly, slyly, and Karofsky's smirk completely falls of his face when Puck leans forwards and mutters something.

I may never find out what actually made Karofsky backtrack so quickly but by the way he has reacted - and with what I know about his personal life - it's pretty hard to assume it's something other than the threat of his sexuality been revealed. No one wants to be the gay kid and if that means leaving the openly gay kid alone, so be it. I want to be thankful, I really do but I'm just struggling to understand that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of when everybody seems so damn ashamed all of the time.

"The new faggot is off limits." Karofsky says suddenly, his confidence wavering slightly.

"What?" One of them asks quickly and Karofsky just turns on him, near ready to tear his own friend apart, making himself seem so much bigger as he shouts in the boys face, his sudden ferociousness not only lending itself to his posture but to his voice and it's absolutely terrifying, "Because I fucking say he is. Now move out of my face before I break your fucking neck!" His circle of jocks waver slightly before they shift and step away. Making way for their friend to charge past them.

I'm so busy staring at Karofsky that I don't even notice Puck walk up to me, his hands clasped together tightly as he says, "Are you okay? It's over." I nod once, unsure of what to say to him, and I let Mike take me back into the locker room, closely followed by Puck and Finn, when we come face to face with a woman I assume is the Coach. If the whistle hanging around her neck is anything to go by. She's so tall.

"And where are you boys going?" She asks sternly, though the softness of her face tells another story. I'm not scared of her, I'm not sure that I could ever be scared by her.

"Can we skip class today, Coach?" Mike asks pleadingly and she looks at the four of us for a while then, her eyes lingering on me, a stranger, before Finn adds, "Please, Coach, just this once."

When her eyes meet mine, I pull them away, dropping my gaze to the floor, they're probably bright red and puffy, I probably look hideous. I'm half expecting her to make us all get changed when she says, "Just this once." I look up at her in shock.

"Thank you." Mike, Finn and Puck say in unison and she smiles such a beautiful smile that it surprises me. She looks at me once more before offering a hand, "You must be new around here, I'm Coach Beiste." I look at her reaching hand for a while before I stretch my own out..

"Blaine Anderson." I say quickly, my throat a little scratchy as we shake hands.

"You play football?" she asks and I almost smile because she sounds just like Mike.

"Sometimes." I say quietly and she nods in approval.

"You should try out, I'm always looking out for fresh meat!" I laugh lightly then and she grins at me, "Ah-ha! I knew there was a gorgeous smile in there somewhere." My cheeks flush a little and she looks down at the clipboard she's holding.

"You boys go and take good care of my fresh meat, you hear me, and I'll see you all bright and early tomorrow. And if they don't calm down," she says to me, clearly referring to that fact that I'm so obviously upset, "You just come to me and I'll kick them off the team, no questions, whether you're on the squad or not. I don't tolerate behaviour that results in you feeling the way you obviously do right now. Okay?" She reassures and I can't help but smile up at this curious lady. The woman who wears football socks and lipstick all at once, the woman who obviously holds the teenage boys that she teaches in line but still has the capacity to open up her heart to a stranger.

"Okay." I say softly and with that she smiles curtly and bows her head before she marches out of the door and the building. Her voice booming out after she blows her whistle sharply, "YOU BOYS BETTER BE RUNNING LAPS WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS OR YOU'LL ALL BE GETTING TO KNOW ME BETTER IN FRIDAY NIGHT DETENTION TOMORROW! NOW MOVE! GO ON! MOVE YOUR ASSES!" All we hear from inside is a mass moan of disgruntled complaints and I just have to smile at that.

If Miss Landy is the worst example of a teacher then Coach Beiste is easily the best.

o~o~o

By the time lunch arrives I find myself completely surrounded by people - people who I instantly recognise from either meeting them once or twice in person or because Kurt has mentioned them. Puck is sitting on my right and Finn is on my left and the conversation is easy and, if being honest, this is what I had hoped this school could be for me. It's all laughter and comfortable teasing and easy touches and it's almost enough to make me forget about this morning - because since Puck got himself involved Karofsky hasn't so much as looked at me - and while I don't like the idea of that, the idea that he won't even show me his face now, I like the idea of being left alone much more. So, I accept it for what it is. Maybe that's not right, maybe it seems a little selfish but - like Burt told me once - sometimes you have to look out for yourself first.

"Look it's Blaine! Blaine's already my friend. Right, Blaine?" Brittany says as she sits down at the table with her tray - only to be joined a second later by beautiful Latina girl who Kurt had once told me was in love with her - Santana.

"Of course I'm your friend, Britt." I say eventually and Santana smiles over at me, "Oh, well, in that case. Let me introduce myself properly. Santana Lopez - self-proclaimed badass bitch and president of the Sweet Valley High fan club." I raise an eyebrow and she smirks, "Problem, short stuff?"

"Not at all." I say and she laughs lightly, "That's what I thought. Listen up, have those guys been giving you shit because just tell me and I will go all Lima Heights, okay?"

"They haven't said a word since earlier." I say honestly and she nods, a hint of victory in her voice as she says, "Let's hope it stays that way, for their sake.." She's so interesting to me that I can't help but stare at her for a while. She's a girl who can clearly handle herself and I have instant respect for her sense of confidence.

"Tana, can you open this for me, I don't want to make a mess?" Brittany asks quietly, trying not to interrupt, and she's almost looks like a child as her eyes widen and she holds out a yogurt pot.

"Sure, Britt." Santana says, without hesitation, ripping the lid off the pot with ease and handing it back to Brittany. They start whispering to one another then and it's so beautiful to watch that I zone out a little. It's pretty obvious that they're more that friends when you look at them. The way Santana will touch Brittany's arm as they talk, the way she'll roll her eyes at her friend in the least malicious way possible, the way she laughs at Brittany's jokes that don't make any sense at all or, perhaps in the greatest demonstration of her respect for Brittany, the way she stays completely silent when her friend does something the outside world would consider 'stupid' and everyone starts laughing, everyone but her. Those little things that they share between one another are touching and I cannot understand how people can think that they are 'wrong' somehow for being in love - which, in turn, helps to remind me that Kurt and I are not wrong either. There's an easy, playful nature to the girls' relationship, a trait that I think Kurt and I will have after all of this calms down properly and we're ready to take the plunge together and I welcome that with open arms. They're both so free together and you'd be foolish not to aspire to something like that.

"Can I talk to you?" Puck whispers unexpectedly, he's loud enough to draw me away from my thoughts but nowhere near loud enough to draw the attention of anyone else sitting at the table.

"Puck-" I start quietly.

"Please? I really need to talk to you." he whispers and I nod because it's Puck.

"Okay." I say and with that he stands from the table and waits for me to follow suit, as soon as I'm upright he taps Finn on the shoulder and says, "I'm taking Blaine out for five." Finn just nods and smiles at me and I follow Puck out of the cafeteria and through a door, that I hadn't even noticed, which in turn leads us straight to the school's car park.

"There's this tree over here," Puck says pointing to a solitary tree on a patch of grass, he's trying to explain himself as he leads me to it, "We can talk here. Alone. Properly."

He quickly sits down and I join him. My hands pressing into the golden leaves that lie fallen around us.

"I'm sorry this morning was so rough." he says then, playing nervously with the denim of his jeans. He's not usually like this, not when it's just us. We don't pose threats to one another.

"That's not your fault." I offer quietly, "And you seem to have stopped it, for the most part."

"About that.." Puck trails off, glancing at me fretfully. I don't like seeing him this way, at all.

"Puck-" I start but he shakes his head. He needs to say something, I'm not about to stop him.

"They hurt you and you looked… God, Blaine, you looked so sad and I just... I just had to do something and I know that you don't like fighting and that it makes you nervous and jumpy and uncomfortable.." he explains regretfully, "And I remember that day you thought Kurt and Mr H. were fighting and how that got you so scared.. and I don't have an excuse, Blaine, I don't have a reason or an explanation or anything for you. I just.. I saw that they'd hurt you and I had to do something because I care about you. I really, really care about you."

"I know." I say quietly and he frowns. He's not satisfied with that.

"I shouldn't have pushed him, I shouldn't have put my hands on him and I'm just so sorry about that part. I don't know if you believe in second chances. I just don't… I don't want you to be afraid of me, Blaine."

"What?" I say quickly, confusion no doubt contorting my features.

"I don't want you to be scared of me or what I could do to you because I would never, never, hurt you." He says firmly, his eyes shining sadly under the light of the midday sun.

"I know." I say again, honestly, and he smiles softly this time, "I hope you really believe that."

"I'm not.." I start, looking at Puck who nods encouragingly, like he always has, for me to go on, "I'm not afraid of you but I was.. I was scared I think but not of you. Never of you. I was just scared that you'd get hurt because of me, Puck, and I'm not.. I'm not sure that I'm worth that." I finish and he reaches a hand out to me, I take it easily and he smiles, "You are worth it."

"What.. what did you say to him?" I ask quietly then, almost regretting it before he tugs my hand.

"What do you think I told him?" He asks and I shrug, my eyes focusing on blades of grass, "That you knew he was gay? That you'd tell everyone?" Puck stiffens next to me.

"Look at me." He says then, his voice just firm enough to pull my gaze upwards, "I didn't use that against him, I used some shit I found out about him but not that. Never that. I wouldn't do that to him."

"You didn't?" I ask and he shakes his head, "No. Not that. I promise."

And that's enough.

"I'm sorry, I thought-" I start and he cuts me off.

"Don't apologise." He says, his smile returning as he laughs to himself, "You have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing, okay? Remember that time in the street? When I told you that I was willing to repeat myself like a clichéd broken record? Yeah, well, this is one of those times. So, here it goes. You're perfect Blaine Anderson and there is no one like you on this earth. You're such a beautiful person and I love you. Not quite in the way that Kurt seems to love you.. but you get what I'm saying, right?" I smile and then I laugh, "Yeah, I get it. And I love you too. Just for the record. Your clichéd broken record." And then we just sit there for a while, staring at the tyres of cars and nudging each other playfully until we both remember that we have other friends inside and we pull ourselves off the ground and head back in.

When we walk back to our table, the girls get over-excited and the boys smile warmly and I'm left thinking that maybe this school isn't quite so bad after all. I think I've found a new kind of hope here today and I think I could be okay. Maybe even happy.

"You boys just missed Rachel falling over her own feet again and spattering herself in spaghetti sauce." Santana laughs teasingly and Rachel just huffs next to her, her arms crossed tightly across her chest, poorly hiding an obvious stain, "Oh, well, you would find it funny, wouldn't you?"

"Clearly." Santana smiles and, yeah, I think I could be happy here after all.

o~o~o