Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or any of its characters; Ryan Murphy and Co. hold that honor. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.

"I just - I can't believe how many applicants there are that are exactly like us. Better, even!"

Kurt scowled at his notes on the New York Academy for the Dramatic Arts, gripping his non-fat mocha tightly. The coffee cup looked dangerously close to crumpling under his white-knuckled grip, but Blaine simply slid his hand across the table and rested it on top of Kurt's. Without looking up, Kurt loosened his grip on the cup, letting Blaine intertwine their fingers. For several long, quiet moments, only the noise of the coffeeshop prevailed, Blaine's thumb sweeping over Kurt's knuckles in slow, soothing strokes. At last, a soft sigh escaped him as he leaned back in his chair, some of the tension draining from his shoulders as he looked up. "Who are we kidding, Blaine? We live in Ohio. The so-called bees' knees around here are football players who can't even pass Algebra II unless they've retaken it five times. We're not even blips on the radar compared to them. How are we supposed to make it in New York?"

"Don't you think you're overestimating these people a little?" Blaine suggested, looking over at his boyfriend. It hurt to see the difference that two days and a tour gone wrong had made. Before, Kurt had sported his latest H&M acquisition proudly, shoulders straight to emphasize the smooth, clean lines of the red-and-white plaid. Looking at him then, Blaine could see the stress already cording the muscles underneath, making him looking hunched over and worn. He wanted to tug Kurt to his feet and hug him until the knots loosened and his shoulders slouched in relief. Sensing that a single wrong move would make the tenuous grip that Kurt had on his emotions snap, Blaine sat silently across from him, nursing his own cup of coffee absentmindedly. "They're just like you, Kurt. They've had to deal with high school and all of those same auditioning processes that we have. It's not like they were born on a Broadway stage."

Kurt sighed, shaking his head minutely as he stared at a point over Blaine's shoulder. They were the only two diners left at the Lima Bean, an unsurprising fact given that it was almost eleven that evening. Under normal circumstances, Blaine wouldn't have condoned caffeine so late in the day, but as soon as Kurt had called him he had known that something was wrong. The soft, almost dead tone to Kurt's voice as he had explained the results of the NYADA orientation had been enough to spur Blaine into action, hastening to assure Kurt that he could meet him for coffee and then they could talk it over. While Blaine wasn't entirely convinced that two cups of coffee would improve Kurt's attitude (if anything, he seemed only more agitated then than he had been twenty minutes ago), the prospect of telling him to stop was dissuading enough that Blaine had let him drink to his fill.

Eventually, Kurt met Blaine's gaze, jaw tense. Blaine gave his hand a comforting squeeze, hoping to stem the flow of his disappointment a little, but he knew that the effort was futile. "Several of them have performed professionally," he quipped. "Most, actually. The rest have all joined so many extra-curriculars that one has a five page essay listing them." Kurt shook his head, exhaustion and despair catching up with him. "I just . . . I don't know what to do. I know that I was strong for Rachel and everything, but what if we really can't make it? What if we're destined for Lima Loserdom?"

"I'm going to stop you right there," Blaine murmured, sensing that the worst of the tirade had finally passed as he pulled Kurt's hand away from his coffee and gripped it tightly in his own, resting both against the table. He leaned forward a little to meet Kurt's gaze as he deflected and looked aside, willing him to understand. "You are . . . an incredible performer, Kurt. The control that you have over your voice is amazing, and your range is something that most singers spend their entire lives aspiring to achieve. In show business, that's what counts. Your natural ability alone gives you an edge, but you've been honing your skills for years. And ultimately, it all comes down to the final auditions. Whatever your transcript says will help you with the academics, but NYADA is a performance school. They're looking for a performer. You still have time to perfect your skills and bulk up your transcript." Squeezing Kurt's hand again, he added quietly, "Please don't give up before you've even tried."

Kurt stayed silent for several long moments. Blaine could almost see the warring emotions flickering across his face as he scuffed a fingertip against the table, drawing in a barely audible but slightly shuddering breath. His eyes glistened between one blink and the next, his resolve almost visibly hardening as he nodded. "I know," he said at last. "I still have time to improve and . . . regardless of what Harmony says, it's never too late to enter the show business." He offered a slightly watery smile at that, adding, "Besides, someone has to give this cow-town a better reputation than 'most drop-outs in the Midwest.' I don't plan on adding my name to that list."

"And you shouldn't," Blaine agreed. "No one deserves to succeed more than you do, Kurt."

"I'm sure that Rachel would beg to differ," Kurt murmured, a slightly wry smile crossing his face.

Blaine tipped his head in a concessionary manner, waiting for Kurt to go on. When nothing seemed forthcoming, he asked softly, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Kurt quipped, almost too quickly, before giving Blaine's hand a reassuring squeeze. "What's the real world without a few reality checks, hmm?" He picked up his abandoned coffee cup and took a small sip from it, wrinkling his nose as he set it aside.

"Do you want another?" Blaine asked reflexively, moving to stand up. After fetching the previous two for him, it didn't occur to him to think twice about the hour, or the sullen looks that the barista was giving them. A tiny smile crinkled the corner of Kurt's eyes as he shook his head, tugging him back down.

"No," he assured, reaching over to gather the sheets that he had spread across the table - his unfilled application for the Lima Bean among them - and sliding them neatly into his satchel. "But I'm pretty sure that if we stay much longer, they'll lock us in the deep freezer until morning with the rest of the unused condiments." He pushed his chair back and stood up, Blaine following suit as he shouldered his own satchel, grabbing both their coffee cups and walking them over to the trash. A pair of warm arms sneaked around his waist briefly as he stepped back, bumping gently into Kurt's chest. "Thank you," was all Kurt said, giving him a light squeeze before pulling back to shrug on his coat. Blaine couldn't help but smile as he hurried to do the same.

He held open the door for Kurt, who rolled his eyes playfully before intertwining their fingers and tugging him outside. It was brisk out, hovering in the mid-fifties with a biting wind, but neither boy minded the short walk to Kurt's Navigator. Kurt slid into the front seat and turned on the ignition, one hand resting over the center console that Blaine kept warmed with his own as they crossed street after empty street, alternating between listening to the radio and chatting about Glee club rehearsals coming up.

"I still can't believe that you actually transferred," Kurt commented lightly as street signs gave way to long stretches of highway, nearly empty but for the late-night commuters.

"I can't believe that Rachel hasn't jumped on me for being a spy," Blaine retorted loftily, squeezing Kurt's hand.

Kurt rolled his eyes as he adjusted the heat a little, turning it down as the engine kicked in. "She knows that I'd take away her Rachel privileges if she did."

Blaine lifted an eyebrow as he tilted his head to look at Kurt. "Rachel privileges?"

"Artie constructed an official handbook over the summer about the specific powers that 'the Rachel' has," Kurt explained, tapping his fingers against the wheel lightly as he drove. "She can storm out during meetings, make official speeches, and commandeer the official set list for any competition at any time."

"Seems like a lot," Blaine admitted.

"That's just the basic overview. There are amendments and other factors that keep things from being too one-sided. Mr. Schuester can overrule her if it's a meeting regarding a competition or official school performance, for example."

"That's . . . reassuring," Blaine said slowly.

Kurt smiled, giving his hand another squeeze. "Don't worry, I won't let her boss us around too much. Ever since we've decided that we're too like-minded to be enemies, we've discovered that our mutual goals require us to get along well at least half of the time. She can't storm out at every practice, and I already gave her a long talk about 'Why My Boyfriend is Not a Spy' the other day."

Blaine felt warmth curl in his chest at the reference to himself as Kurt's boyfriend, smiling at the scenery flashing by outside his window. Kurt went on to explain other changes that had been made over the summer, including his successful rehashing of the Pip Pip Hooray musical. He'd been able to cross it off his bucket list, which had expanded to a considerable one hundred and thirty seven items over the summer. Eighteen were already completed, including shave off the baby fat and learn how to repair an engine. Blaine didn't completely understand the importance of some of the choices, and Kurt refused to let him see the full list on his phone, insisting on reading off one or two at a time. Nevertheless, Blaine found it incredibly soothing to listen to Kurt talk about his goals and ambitions. It restored his confidence in Kurt's future, knowing that for all his discomfort with the high bar already set by his Midwestern competitors, he still wouldn't be left completely in the dust if one or two of his goals flopped.

"What are you thinking about?" Kurt asked, breaking his reverie.

Blaine smiled, answering without hesitation, "You."

An echoing smile crossed Kurt's face as he pulled down the street and into Blaine's driveway, shifting the car into park. "Here we are," he said quietly, looking over at Blaine.

"Here we are," Blaine agreed, not moving to unbuckle his seat belt or get out of the car. Silence reigned as they looked at each other, small smiles even more pronounced in the dim light reflecting off the dashboard. Blaine leaned forward and kissed him once, lightly, before squeezing his hand and unbuckling his seat belt. "You - are - perfect - to - me," he insisted, emphasizing each word with a gentle kiss to Kurt's lips. "No matter what happens with NYADA, okay?"

"Okay," Kurt said, smiling a little dazedly as he reached up to cup Blaine's cheek, rubbing a thumb over it briefly before pulling back. "Thank you," he added seriously.

Blaine smiled at him in answer, climbing out of the passenger's seat and picking up his satchel from the floor, shutting the door and stepping back to wave at Kurt as he pulled out of the driveway, lifting a hand in a slight wave. Watching him until he'd made it down the street and around the corner, Blaine turned towards his own house and sidled up to the front door, unlocking it and stepping inside.

Things happen for a reason, he told himself as he shut it behind himself and toed off his shoes. If Kurt doesn't get into NYADA, then he wasn't meant to.

Mutinously, a voice added, He will, and he fell asleep to the words ringing in his ears.

"Aren't you in a good mood."

Blaine sauntered down the hall, holding Kurt's hand in his own and smiling at the wary looks that greeted them. "I am, actually." He knew that he was almost begging for trouble by walking arm-in-arm with his boyfriend, but he couldn't help himself. Kurt and he hadn't attended the same school since Kurt transferred back to McKinley, and it was exciting to be back with him.

The transfer itself had been easy enough. He had talked with Principal Figgins, filled out a few generic papers and then had his parents sign them. That had taken the most work—neither Emily nor Brian Anderson had been particularly enthusiastic about their only son sacrificing Dalton Academy for a fairly run-of-the-mill public school—but in the end, they'd both seen the financial appeal and caved. Blaine had conveniently forgotten to mention that it was the same school that his boyfriend attended. He knew that it would only add further suspicion to the emotions doubtlessly whirling through his parents' minds; leaving them ignorant on the matter would not harm them.

It wasn't like he had transferred to McKinley just for Kurt. He had done it because . . . well, because he needed to. Dalton had been a safe haven for him, and he had loved the Warblers, but he could feel the tides changing, new people moving in to fill the spots emptied by the previous graduates. He didn't know how the waters would settle or where allegiances would fall, and ultimately, Kurt was right. Dalton was a cage. The uniforms, the curriculum, even the school itself were all designed for a more elite, cultured student body than that which attended McKinley. He might thrive under its sheltering wing, but the Warblers' rigid status quo left little room for improvement or error. He had known that his talents weren't being suppressed or underused under the Warblers' tutelage, but the way that Kurt had described the dynamic that the New Directions had had made the decision slightly easier for him.

The Warblers that he had known and loved had been like a family to him. Despite the initial lackluster response to his arrival, Blaine was confident that the New Directions could warm up to him, too. He didn't intend to fill the spot of 'the Rachel' or, even more notoriously, Finn, but he knew that he was perceived that way by at least half of the group, the other half more receptive to the idea of fresh blood that had already had some experience in the show choir ring. As long as he could reach an amicable middle ground with the rest, then he would be satisfied.

Just as he opened his mouth to respond to Kurt's latest inquiry about his classes - he'd been keeping up a steady stream of conversation as Blaine sifted through his own thoughts - it happened.

Blindingly cold blue ice smashed into his face as he rounded the corner with Kurt in tow, effectively breaking him out of his optimistic reverie.

"Welcome to McKinley, Glee-otch," someone sneered, laughter echoing around him as the offender moved off.

"Gross," he muttered, a handful of blue slush sliding off his face. He cringed at the wet smack that it made on the floor, knowing that at Dalton that would have been a punishable offense. No one raised an outcry at the blatant vandalism here, perhaps too shocked or indifferent to care about it. Blaine felt Kurt's arm go rigid against his own, his hand almost crushing Blaine's as the laughter slowly started to fade.

"Really? You're that mature?" Kurt demanded caustically, seeming game for some sort of confrontation.

"Kurt, it's okay," Blaine murmured, his own voice lost as Kurt sneered something else after the slushier.

Blaine didn't mind, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand before a firm one stopped him. "Oh, Blaine," Kurt sighed, his grip relaxing as he tugged him aside, gently but firmly. "I am so sorry." Blaine opened his mouth to say that it wasn't that bad, really, once the worst of the slushy had dripped off his face, pooling around his chest and shoulders instead. Kurt didn't give him the chance, dragging him off to the boys' bathroom and clicking the lock quietly behind him.

"They're always at their worst the first week back," he explained, his voice a mixture of desperation and conciliation as he turned on one of the taps. The sound of rushing water was almost soothing in the quiet, a calming contrast to Kurt's disgruntlement. Blaine heard paper towels being yanked from their holder before Kurt was brushing the slushy off his face, wetting the towels underneath the sink before dabbing around his eyes. "It's all that testosterone built up over the summer," he said, brushing the remnants of ice away from Blaine's cheeks. "Here, just—" Blaine watched as he cupped his hands and carefully trickled some water over the top of Blaine's head. A vapid stream of watered-down blue dye flowed down into the sink, dripping out of his hair. Kurt repeated the process three or four times before turning it over to Blaine, who took the opportunity to brush out the worst of matted gel and slush.

"I'm really sorry that that happened," Kurt added quietly when Blaine turned off the sink and reached for a handful of dry paper towels to repair the worst of the damage to his hair. "I guess I hoped that maybe they would be more mature than that."

"It's not your fault," Blaine said, tossing the used towels in the garbage bin by the door.

"It is," Kurt insisted, watching him in the mirror from a few feet away. He looked elegant in his dark blue waistcoat and white long-sleeve, a pair of navy pants clinging snugly to his legs and disguising some of the collateral damage. Blaine could still see from the smattering of blue droplets on the arm that he'd thrown it in front of his own face for protection, a guilty smile crossing his lips even as Kurt's gaze stayed focused on him, regret radiating off him in waves. "I should never have made you come here. I shouldn't have—"

"You didn't make me come here," Blaine interrupted, stepping close enough that he could wrap his arms around Kurt's waist and giving it a light squeeze. He could almost feel the apprehension radiating off Kurt as he soothed his hands down Kurt's arms, willing him to calm down. "I signed those papers. I chose to come here. Please don't beat yourself up over something you didn't even do."

"I encouraged you to come here," Kurt pointed out.

"And I'm happy that to be here."

That seemed to stall Kurt momentarily, his mouth opening reflexively in protest before he closed it as he tilted his head to look at Blaine silently instead. With a soft sigh, he wrapped his own arms around Blaine's damp shoulders. "I'm glad you're here, too," he admitted. "Even if I can't believe that you've already been slushied." He reached up to brush his fingers through Blaine's damp hair, smoothing it down somewhat. "I was hoping that they wouldn't do it at all, but—"

"Weren't you the one who told me that everyone in Glee club has been slushied at some point? Doesn't this just make me official?"

A tiny smile quirked the edges of Kurt's lips upward. "I suppose it does," he said softly, leaning over to kiss Blaine's cheek. He lingered for a moment and Blaine found himself tilting his head to lean in for a proper kiss unthinkingly.

Before he could capture Kurt's lips, a banging noise came from the other side of the door. They sprung apart, Kurt hurrying to smooth down his own hair - as if it needed fixing, Blaine thought, amused - while Blaine focused on making himself as presentable as possible. It was no easy feat - his hair was in complete disarray and his shirt borderline irreparable - but at least he felt somewhat human as he unlocked the door. Clearly, the person on the other side had disappeared, but the mood was broken and both boys knew it. A laugh bubbled out of Blaine's throat as he realized where they were and exactly how unromantic an impromptu make-out session would have been.

"Come on," Kurt said, flicking one of Blaine's corn syrupy curls off his forehead contemplatively. "You need a new shirt. Nothing I can do about the hair, but I've got a spare in my locker that might fit."

"Isn't that Kurt's shirt?" Rachel asked with a pointed smile as Blaine and Kurt entered the choir room ten minutes later, the rest of the New Directions chatting loudly with each other.

Blaine shrugged, tugging self-consciously at the red collar of it. Kurt's chest was narrower and his shoulders broader than Blaine's, but overall, it fit snugly, manageable if not perfect.

"I'm just borrowing it," he said, waving a hand dismissively. He felt Kurt's hand on his shoulder briefly, subtly steering him away from the open seats next to Rachel as they made a beeline for the top tier instead.

"Some hockey jock slushied him," Kurt added.

Rachel made a sympathetic noise as she flicked through a stack of papers and shook her head. "Well, at least now you know what it's like. We wouldn't want my new duet partner slushied right before an important number, now, would we?" She looked up at him with an almost conspiratorial gleam in her eye; Blaine didn't miss the way Kurt's hand tightened on his shoulder, a silent warning to refrain from responding. He was spared the necessity as Mr. Schuester stepped into the room, his arms loaded with papers and folders, a slightly harried expression plastered on his face.

"All right, guys," Schuester announced, hobbling over to the center of the room and setting his burden down on top of the piano. (Blaine saw the pianist eye him distastefully, a bored expression quickly overtaking it as Schuester continued speaking.) "Now, I know that some of you have already chosen your top colleges. For most of you, however, this is all still a new and exciting process. Therefore, for the undecideds sitting in the room, I want you to have all the resources that you might need to make an educated decision. Your future is at stake here, and I don't want anyone downplaying that just because you aren't sure what exactly you're looking for. And some of these schools you might not even have thought of."

He walked back over to the piano and grabbed a stack of folders from the top, passing them along the rows. "These might be the keys to your future," he said simply. "Use them."

Kurt and Blaine accepted theirs without comment. Kurt glanced dismissively at the Ohio-based colleges and universities, instead carding through the list until he reached the ones with 'New York' on the front. Blaine spent more time on his, skimming over each pamphlet carefully before moving on to the next one. When he reached the end of the list, he shut the folder gently, setting it down on his knees and fixing his attention back on Schuester as he spoke.

"Now that we have that settled—"

"Mr. Schue, if I may?" Blaine saw Kurt roll his eyes at Rachel's interruption and reached over to give his hand a comforting squeeze. Kurt's lips twitched in a smile as he intertwined them, squeezing Blaine's back. "We only have nine members," Rachel continued, waving her hand demonstratively at the assembled group. "We need at least three more before we can compete at regionals."

"I know," Schuester said. "I was just about to get to that—"

"We could ask the skanks to join us," Brittany suggested.

"I don't think they'd be very interested," Schuester interrupted delicately. "However—"

"I already tried to get Quinn back," Rachel admitted, shaking her head. "She told me to leave or one of her new friends would beat me up."

"We can't dwell on the bad," Schuester insisted, tapping his fist against a pamphlet emphatically. "We just have to—"

"How are we supposed to recruit new members when all we've been doing lately is losing them?" Puck demanded, folding his arms and leaning back in his seat.

"Not to mention we've already lost four since the first day of school," Mercedes reminded, ticking them off her fingers. "Sam, Quinn, Santana, and Zizes."

"Is it always like this?" Blaine whispered to Kurt as further arguments erupted around them. Kurt shrugged and patted his arm.


"Enough!" Schuester barked at last. "Guys, we can still do this. We just have to stay focused and keep each other motivated. Now, I know this hasn't been the easiest road for you all, but now more than ever you need to talk to your peers and get them to sign up."

"And if we can't?" Puck asked.

"Then we don't compete," Schuester said, shrugging.

"We have to compete," Rachel said at once.

"Exactly. So. Any ideas?"

Kurt and Blaine exchanged a look.

Any ideas? they both seemed to ask.

And, at once: No.