Author's Notes: This is an alternative universe based loosely on the second season, with a Kurt-centric focus. Most of the events of that season will not occur in this story, but I reserve the right to include them as I see fit. It's important to know before beginning this story that it is extremely long, involved, and introspective; it's driven by character, not action. This story requires a lot of patience on the part of the reader. Kurt is purposefully out-of-character, and the story is thus about how other people react to this very different Kurt. The entire premise is how a mature and confident Kurt would act toward the people and events around him and how they would respond in kind. So, please, no comments about how this is not canon!Kurt. It was never meant to be. Fans of Mercedes and Finn will probably not enjoy this story - at least not for a very long time. Fair warning. Also, no Blaine, because he's gross, and no breast implants for Santana, because that's dumb.

Burt Hummel anxiously paced outside the airport terminal.

It figured the plane was late. He suppressed the urge to lament that it was a bad omen of things to come. His gut roiled with both fear and anticipation, and he wasn't sure which one he wanted to win.

Three months ago when he had watched his only child, his baby, walk away from him and step onto a plane which would carry him almost five thousand miles away, he had driven home sobbing and hadn't stopped for three days. He knew he was being ridiculous, knew that Kurt would be perfectly fine in his grandmother's care, but it hadn't stopped him from worrying. They had never been separated for more than four days, and that was earlier in the year, when Kurt had traveled to Los Angeles for that cheerleading thing.

When Suzanne's mother had originally approached the idea of Kurt spending the summer with her in Paris, Burt had refused. He had no good reason for doing so, other than that he didn't want to be without his son for so long. Unfortunately, the decision was taken out of his hands when Katrine had gone behind his back and asked Kurt directly.

Kurt had refused to accept his father's unilateral decision. He hadn't whined or begged or cajoled. He had said flat out that he didn't appreciate being kept from his remaining living relative and only connection to his mother's family. Burt hadn't known what to say to that, so he had come up with a whole other host of reasons why Kurt shouldn't go, each of which had been shot down in Kurt's infuriatingly cold and logical manner.

The language barrier. Kurt was fluent in French. Shit.

He might get airsick. He had traveled to Los Angeles with absolutely no problems. Fuck.

The prohibitive cost. Katrine was footing the entire bill. Bitch.

Summer homework. There was none. Damn.

Finn and Carole. Carole wanted him to have this opportunity and Finn didn't care. Hell.

Mercedes. She was spending her summer at a gospel camp. Oh, of course.

Tina. Asian camp. What?

Artie. Math camp, followed by band camp. That…was a lot of geek.

The ditzy blond girl. Cheerleading camp and something about sewers. Again, what?

The shop. Burt could hire and train a new employee for less than what he had to pay his fully-certified son. Grr.

Kurt would miss out on all of the summer shopping sales. Paris was the fashion capital of the world. Argh.

Once Burt realized that he had no leg to stand on, he had tried to bribe his son with any number of enticements, including a new car, a tour of New York and tickets to various Broadway shows, and even a new tiara. They were long shots and hadn't worked. Besides, Kurt had his own money, thanks to his mother's life insurance, the malpractice settlement, and his various trust funds. Burt had felt like a complete asshole, trying to buy his son's affections, even though he knew Kurt loved him more than he did anyone else in the world.

So, in the end, he had relented.

Now it was ninety-two days later. Kurt had been to Europe. He had taken two short summer classes at the Sorbonne and a few weekend courses at Le Courdon Bleu during the first month. His grandmother had also managed to take him on several day trips to London.

He had then gone on to Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece. He had learned two new languages, which brought his cache up to six. Katrine had hired tutors to travel with them.

That was just obnoxious.

Kurt had attended operas in Vienna, ballets in Paris, fashion shows in Milan, dance classes in Dublin, voice lessons in Rome, and toured the cradle of Western civilization. He had emailed hundreds of pictures and sent dozens of postcards and shipped back crates of Lord only knew what, but had kept phone calls to a minimum. Not out of any malice, of course, but sheer business.

His son had begun pulling away from him.

Burt knew that Kurt was returning because he had to, not because he necessarily wanted to. Indeed, Kurt had put off his flight home until the last possible minute, as McKinley was scheduled to begin the fall semester in roughly six hours.

He had argued for an earlier flight, but Kurt had refused, not wanting his trip to end any sooner than absolutely necessary. He had assured his father that he would rest properly on the way home, and since he had snagged a direct flight in to Dayton International via Air France rather than one which would require him to catch another connection in either New York or Washington, he would get a full night's sleep.

It was actually logical and healthy, which made Burt hate it all the more.

He knew he only had a certain amount of time left with his son. That was the primary reason he hadn't wanted to send Kurt to Katrine, though the woman had been begging him for years. She would be able to open doors for Kurt that would otherwise have been denied him. Last year, Glee and Cheerios had taken up so much of Kurt's time that Burt had barely seen him. Soon, college would call, and Kurt had been hinting that he had plans to study abroad.

He was going to lose Kurt to life.

Burt was startled out of his reverie by an insistent tapping on his shoulder. He whirled around in a huff and opened his mouth to deliver a shredding.

"Hi, Dad."


No, this couldn't be his son. His son wasn't this tall. Since when could Kurt look him directly in the eye? His son was skinny, not leanly muscular. Kurt never strayed from his diet! His son didn't dress this way. Where were the crazy patterns? His son never allowed his hair to grow past his ears and religiously straightened it. Why had he kept it wavy? Why were there streaks of blond? His son didn't tan.

Burt burst into tears.

Kurt smiled and gently gathered his father in a loving embrace. "I missed you, Daddy."

Burt choked.

His boy had left and come back a man.

A lost Burt trailed helplessly after his son as Kurt navigated the airport with ease, despite the fact that he had never been there. When he had gone to Los Angeles, the squad had flown out of Columbus.

"How do you know where to go?"

Kurt smiled. "I've been in more airports than I can count in the past three months. Eventually you get a feel for them. The baggage claim should be just ahead."

Burt nodded, heartened when his son took his hand in his own and squeezed reassuringly. Just as quickly, Kurt released the hold and sauntered into the clamoring fray of people desperate to lay their hands on their belongings.

He even moved differently, Burt noted. Kurt used to strut and sashay around, his hips set at maximum sway, but now he moved with confidence and purpose, economically yet gracefully. There was almost a liquidity to his gait. His son prowled.

Kurt reappeared momentarily, triumphant in his endeavor.

Burt stared in bewilderment at the small valise. "Where's the rest?"

"Oh, this is it," Kurt grinned.


Kurt chuckled.

Chuckled. Not giggled. Not snickered.

"Most of the clothes I took with me no longer fit, Dad. I sold them to a few of the better consignment shops in Paris and London. I actually got back more than I spent on them, and that's not including the conversion factor."

Burt blinked. "What are you going to do for clothes, son? You don't have much time for shopping this week, what with school starting."

Kurt grinned again.

As far as Burt was concerned, there was far too much grinning going on. He wasn't used to such open, honest smiles from his son. He was more familiar with pouts, sneers, eye-rolling, and smirks. Though Kurt had always been careful to check his attitude around him, most of his teenage rebellion was predicated on making his father feel as foolish and unsophisticated as possible, whenever possible. He had no idea how to interact with the young man before him.

"Don't worry, Dad. I had a new wardrobe created and fitted before I left. It's already been shipped here, so I'll unpack it after school is over."

Burt cocked a brow. "Created?"

Kurt nodded. "Most of the clothes are of my own design." He shrugged. "I got bored with following the whims of others and desperately trying to stay on top of the latest fashion." He shook his head. "Who was I trying to impress? Most of the denizens of Lima don't know the difference between Marc Jacobs and Marc Anthony. Why settle for being trendy when I can create my own trends?"

Burt gaped.

"I'm rather excited about my choices. I actually think you'll like them. I decided to stick with simple designs, mostly solid colors, though with a variety of fabrics."

What! No paisley?

"Almost everything fashionable is out of style before the next season even rolls around. It was a waste of my time and money, so I decided on some well-made pieces which are considered classic and never fall out of vogue."

A dazed Burt shook his head to clear it. "Okay, then. Well. Did you want to stop at Starbucks before we leave?"

"No thank you," Kurt politely replied. "After drinking the coffee of some of the finest cafés in Europe, I've come to the conclusion that Starbucks offers swill. And, really, six dollars for a cup of coffee? That's just obscene."

Burt's mind was blown.

Kurt blushed and he smiled shyly at his father. "Besides, you make the best coffee. I've really missed it."

Burt blushed in tandem and allowed his son to lead him to the parking garage.

The two hour ride back to Lima was made mostly in silence. Burt found the quiet unnerving, while Kurt appeared perfectly at ease.

Burt stumbled over questions to ask his son, all of which were answered immediately and effusively, though Kurt offered no more commentary than what was necessary. He was as economical with his words as he was with his movements.

"Your hair," Burt said, unsure of how to continue.

Kurt laughed. "I know. I had no idea the Grecian sun would be so very bright. Thankfully it only streaked the brown, rather than washing it out completely." He patted his head nervously. "Does it look bad?"

"No," Burt said honestly. "It looks terrific. It really suits you."

Kurt smiled, pleased.

Burt sighed. "You were so blond as a kid. Your mom and I were sure your hair would stay that way, like hers. It didn't change until you were six, but every time summer would roll around, you'd still get highlights."

"Well, I haven't been out in the sun for a number of years," Kurt replied.

Burt nodded. "I'm surprised you tolerated it."

"I didn't have much of a choice. When you're exploring the Acropolis, you don't let a little sun damage get in the way."

"You're very tan."

Kurt nodded. "I spent a lot time outdoors. I actually enjoyed it, surprisingly. Still, I was careful and quite liberal with my sunscreen." He frowned. "I'm not sure how much I like the tan, though. It's rather odd, trying to get used to my new reflection."

"It makes your eyes stand out more," Burt said quietly. "You've always had beautiful eyes."

Kurt laid a hand on his father's arm and smiled. "I have your eyes, and they are beautiful. I've always loved them."

A sudden warmth infused Burt and he gently patted his son's hand. "I really missed you," he choked out.

"I missed you, too. I'm glad to be home."

Burt snorted. "You're glad to be back in Lima?"

"Home is wherever you are, Dad."

Kurt's eyes sparkled as his father turned into the driveway. Dawn had broken about half an hour before and ribbons of bright pink and soft orange streaked across the sky.

"You got it," he whispered.

Burt grunted and nodded. "Sure did. Still don't know why you wanted it, though. I thought the Navigator was your baby."

Kurt sighed. "It was, and I enjoyed it very much. Still, it was a little ridiculous. We're a family of two – well, four, if you include Carole and Finn – and the Navigator was too much even for that. Not to mention that the insurance premiums and fuel costs were outrageous. I simply couldn't justify them to myself anymore."

"Son," Burt said warily, "we have money. I hope you didn't give up your truck just for that."

Kurt eyed the new silver Jeep Liberty with anticipation. "Not just for that, no. I think my tastes have become a little more refined, and the Navigator was slightly more ostentatious than that with which I'm comfortable. This is much more economical while still being sporty and offering more than enough cargo room. Why spend more money than necessary? Just because we have it doesn't mean we should waste it."

With that, Kurt hopped out of his father's Ford pickup and bounced over toward his new acquisition.

Burt stared dumbly at the scene and shook his head, convinced his son had been replaced with a pod person.

"What's that?" Burt asked.

Kurt smiled and held up his toy. "It's my new phone. Do you like it?"

Burt frowned. "It's a little…plain. What was wrong with the old one? I thought you liked your iPhone?"

"I did, but I didn't understand how to use most of it. Besides, the state finally passed that law that mandates no texting while driving, and the school is really cracking down on kids texting each other during classes." He shrugged. "Other than making calls and texting, the only other thing I used it for was to update my Facebook status and play music, but I also have an iPod and my laptop. I just didn't see the point of paying extra for features I don't use."

"Son, is something going on? Why are you suddenly so worried about money?"

Kurt grinned. "I'm not. I think I've just finally learned to appreciate what I have and no longer covet the things I don't. I don't need the latest whatsit to be happy. As long as the phone works, what else do I need?"

Burt couldn't fight that logic, as much as he wanted to.

Kurt turned pensive. "Everywhere Grandmère and I visited, I saw the slums. I saw homeless people who lived in boxes and dressed in rags. I saw hungry children and filthy dogs fighting over scraps." He exhaled loudly. "It was terrible, Dad. That kind of poverty…to see it in industrialized first-world nations was shocking. And illuminating. I know we have that here in the States, but I'd never seen it before."

Burt wrapped an arm around his son's shoulders, surprised and disheartened when he realized he couldn't do it as easily as before.

Kurt sighed. "I'm not so naïve that I believe I can just rush out into the world and solve all of its problems, but I like to think I'm a little more deliberate now, that I appreciate what I've been given and what I've earned. I don't need the best of everything. In fact, most of what I have is superfluous. I still like shopping and being able to afford the things I want, but now I have a better understanding of the things I need." He blushed softly. "I think my heart's a little bigger than it used to be." He looked up at his father with bright eyes. "And I like that."

Burt kissed his son's temple. "I do, too."

Kurt smiled. "Good, because there's a charity walk for the homeless next month in Dayton. I'd like to participate and I'd appreciate it if you'd post a sign-up sheet in the shop. Maybe there are some customers who would be willing to sponsor me."

Burt nodded. "Tell you what. Whatever you manage to raise, I'll match."

Kurt blinked. "Really?"

"Absolutely. Now, how about I make us some coffee?"

Kurt beamed. "Great! I'm just going to change and wash my face."

Burt nodded again and watched his son stroll downstairs.

Twenty minutes later, Burt was sitting at the kitchen table, simply enjoying his coffee and the feeling of having his son home. The whole house seemed brighter and larger and more filled with life now that Kurt was back.

Kurt reappeared and calmly prepared his coffee. Burt couldn't help but stare.

"What's wrong?" Kurt asked.

"Is that what you're wearing?"

Kurt looked crestfallen. "You don't like it?"

"I love it!" Burt almost shouted. "You look…you look…"

Kurt gave him a small smirk. "Like a boy?"

Well, Burt knew better than to admit that out loud, but yes. "You just look different," he hedged.

Kurt laughed. "It's okay, Dad. I'm glad you're pleased."

Pleased didn't begin to cover it, but Burt knew his boy was sensitive about his fashion and he didn't want to say or do anything which might alter this very welcome change.

Kurt was dressed in a nice pair of black linen trousers and an oatmeal short-sleeved Oxford with capped cuffs. He had on black alligator Cuban-heeled boots with a matching belt. A camel-colored suede messenger back was slung over one shoulder. A simple but elegant silver wristwatch was his only adornment. The clothes were extremely well-fitted but not so tight that they looked as though they had been sewn directly onto his body.

Burt frowned as he realized that his son actually did have a body, and a rather nice one. Kurt had filled out. There were muscles were there hadn't been before.

The body. The clothes. The hair, the eyes, the tan.

Holy shit, his boy was gorgeous.

Kurt had always been pretty, and he still was, but now he was also handsome. He had matured.

Other boys would look at him. Boys would want to touch him.

Burt opened his mouth to deny strenuously that his son was, in fact, seventeen years old. He wanted Kurt to march right back downstairs and put on a pair of footie pajamas with a drop-seat. He was sure he had Kurt's old pacifier somewhere around the house.

Meanwhile, Kurt had drained his coffee mug and placed it in the dishwasher. He grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and made his way over to the table.

"By the way, Dad, my maestro in Rome found a new voice coach for me in Kenton. She's expensive, but very well regarded. I think she could make a real difference in my training, which will help with both Glee and my college applications, should I decide to pursue music. I'll pay for the lessons myself, of course. I've already emailed her some files and she's excited to work with me. I've set the lessons up for Sundays, as they'll require several hours at one stretch. I'll email you her name, number, and résumé during study hall today, okay?"

Burt's objections to his son's physicality died on his lips and he nodded.

"I'm going to head out now so I can stop at the office supply store before school. They're open early this week, and I need to stock up on some notebooks and pens. I have Glee this afternoon, but I'll be home by five-thirty to start dinner after I drop by the grocery. Are Carole and Finn still coming over?"

Burt nodded again.

Kurt leaned over and kissed his father's cheek. "I'll see you then. Have a good day!"

"You too," Burt murmured.

Kurt sailed out of the room, and Burt heard the front door close and the new car start a moment later.

He looked around at his empty house, which was suddenly much dimmer.

"Goodbye, son."

After a quick stop at Staples, Kurt pulled up in front of the house whose address he had programmed into his GPS.

He wondered why he didn't feel anxious or scared, but he didn't. It was a new experience for him and he relished it.

He quickly exited the car and made his way up the sidewalk. He knocked on the door and waited for an answer.

He heard a muttered swear before the door swung open, a furious and red-faced ape glaring down at him.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Hello David. I think it's time we had a little chat." Kurt raised a brow. "Don't you?"

Karofsky swallowed nervously.

An hour later, Kurt pulled into McKinley's parking lot.

His talk with Karofsky had gone better than he had expected, given that he was basically blackmailing the other boy. He wasn't one for extortion and felt mildly annoyed with himself for resorting to such measures, but he wasn't about to put up with another year of torture and humiliation simply because Karofsky couldn't deal with his own sexuality.

His grandmother had put the entire matter into perspective during one of their late night discussions. The more Kurt had talked about Karofsky, the more contemplative Katrine had become. Finally, she pointed out that Karofsky's behavior mirrored that of a little boy pulling the pigtails of a girl he liked.

Once Kurt had combated his nausea with a glass of strong port, he gathered his wits and decided on a course of action.

He had no intention of outing anyone – such an action was simply beneath his dignity – but Karofsky didn't know that, nor need he be made aware of it. Thus, some well placed threats, as well as promised legal action, had effectively neutered him. He had told the boy plainly that while his crush was flattering, it was not reciprocated and never would be. Should Karofsky press the issue, the consequences would be severe.

So they had struck a bargain. As long as Karofsky, and Azimio by extension, left him alone, his secret was safe. Karofsky had then grown cocky and, expecting a capitulation, espoused his belief that no one would believe Kurt's word over his own. Kurt had merely stated that while that might possibly be the case, all he had to do was whisper one sentence. Brittany, Quinn, and especially Santana, would take care of the rest.

That had effectively quelled any rebellion.

He expected there might be some reprisals or retaliation later on down the road, but he had contingency plans in place should that occur. He made sure to make Karofsky aware of that as well.

So it was with a light heart and watchful eye that Kurt exited his vehicle and made his way to the front doors. He couldn't believe he was actually excited about the beginning of a new school year, but he was. He had more friends than any year previous, good friends whom he knew would watch out for him, as he would for them.

He hadn't seen nor spoken with Mercedes for the past three months due to his constant traveling and the changing time zones, as well as that the camp which Mercedes had attended didn't have a set schedule to receive phone calls. He had only managed to speak with Tina once and was greatly saddened by her breakup with Artie. He was rather appalled that she had dumped Artie via email and hooked up with Mike, but wasn't about to judge her for her actions. He knew that Tina hadn't been happy with Artie for quite some time; they weren't really compatible as anything other than outcasts, and their relationship had run its course. That said, he still felt she could have handled it better.

Kurt had kept in regular contact with his fellow Cheerios, although his friendship with Quinn had somewhat stalled, due to whatever issues the girl had with Mercedes. He wasn't sure just what those issues were and Quinn wouldn't discuss them, but he assumed they'd work it out on their own. He wasn't going to interfere with his friends' entanglements. He had learned the hard way. He'd only managed to speak with Brittany a few times, as reception in Lima's sewers were spotty at best. He hadn't the foggiest idea what the hell she had been doing down there, and he was pretty sure he didn't want to find out.

Surprisingly, his friendship with Santana had taken off like gangbusters. She was the only other member of New Directions who had traveled extensively throughout Europe, so she was always ready with a recommendation for a shop or a club or a restaurant that he simply had to visit while he was in whatever city. The more they had talked, the more pretense had simply fallen away and the closer they'd become.

Santana was absolutely the most vicious bitch he had ever encountered, but he had come to appreciate that about her. She was also perhaps the most loyal person he had ever known, at least to those whom she considered true friends. That roster had once included only Brittany, but now his own name was listed and he couldn't help but feel a giddy thrill over that fact. He was so excited to see her in person.

He'd no contact with Finn or Rachel and felt no regret over that. He had finally gotten over his absurd crush on Finn, realizing that most of what he liked about the other boy had been made up in his own head, projecting the qualities of his ideal boyfriend on to Finn, when, in reality, Finn shared almost none of them.

He had come to recognize that there was actually very little he liked about Finn, other than his looks. Not that he believed Finn was in any way a bad person, but they had little in common. Kurt decided it was best they give each other a wide berth and tried their best to get along at outings with their parents. Hopefully Finn would accept that without any qualms, because Carole made Burt Hummel happy and Kurt himself was quite fond of the woman. He wasn't about to let his problems with Finn torpedo their parents' relationship.

As far as Rachel was concerned, Kurt simply didn't like her. He would concede that she was tremendously gifted, but outside of appreciation of her talent, he felt nothing for her but contempt and knew his best course of action was to avoid her completely whenever possible. Of course, that wouldn't work in Glee, but he was going to attempt to be conciliatory in their practices. That said, he would no longer hold back his own talent to placate her, Schue, or anyone else. He would use his full range and show off just what he was capable of achieving.

He hadn't spoken with either Artie or Mike, save reading their Facebooks while en route back to the States.

He wasn't sure what to do about them. He had always been extremely close with Artie, though their friendship had tapered off somewhat once Artie had begun dating Tina. The three of them had been friends for years and he was the odd person out after they had finally recognized their mutual attraction. Kurt knew Artie would want to commiserate with him about the breakup, while Tina would want he and Mike to become closer friends. He was dreading Artie and Tina fighting over his loyalties, so he'd have to be careful how he approached those relationships. He didn't want to choose because he didn't wish to lose either of them, but knew it might happen.

He liked Mike well enough, and certainly appreciated the boy's dancing skills, but they had never held a conversation in their lives. Mike was exceedingly shy, despite his showmanship, his talent on the football field, and being one of the top students in their class. Somehow he managed to balance these three things without alienating any of their fellow students, so he wasn't terrorized for being in Glee, a fact which Kurt envied. Kurt also knew Mike would desperately be missing Matt Rutherford, his best friend for twelve years, who had moved to Pennsylvania after his father was transferred. Maybe he and Mike might become friends, but if it came right down to it, he would choose Artie over Mike.

He'd never spoken with Matt either, but the other boy had always given off a pleasant, nonthreatening vibe. Kurt was rather saddened that he had never heard Matt sing. Both Mike and Matt's vocals had melted so easily into the background that they were difficult to discern from the stronger voices. Once he had learned that Matt was moving, he'd sent him a short but heartfelt message via Facebook, wishing him all the best. He was surprised when Matt immediately responded. They'd kept messaging back and forth, each conversation becoming more and more personal until they had established a rather good friendship, even if it wasn't in person. It was nice. Weird, but nice.

As far as Noah Puckerman was concerned, Kurt planned to stay as far away from the other boy as possible and could only hope Puck would reciprocate.

"Well, hello," purred a seductive voice to his left.

Startled, but refusing to show it, he slowly turned to face a fellow Cheerio.

He smiled. "Hello, Quinn."

Her mouth fell open. "K-Kurt?" she whispered.

"You look lovely," he said, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "Of course, you always do."

She blushed, felt herself doing so, and wondered what the hell was wrong with her. This was Kurt! Sure, he looked good. Okay, he looked amazing and sexy as hell, but he was still Kurt!

"I'll see you inside?"

She nodded, dazed.

He chuckled in a low register which shot chills up her spine. She told herself to get it together and get over it, beaming at him and waving her fingers. She was just thankful she didn't have to change her panties. Kurt looked that good.

He saluted her and began making his way past the dumpsters.

"Well, well. Look what we have here," a menacing voice growled.

"Not a brain cell among you?" Kurt suggested.

Azimio blinked. "Look, fag…"

"That's one."

The jock frowned. "One what?"

"I'm keeping a record of every time you and your fellow Simians verbally and physically assault me."

Azimio snorted. "What's the point? Figgins isn't going to do anything to help you."

Kurt nodded. "True enough, which is why I'm taking the matter out of his hands."

Derek Johnson's brow furrowed, his curiosity getting the best of him. "How?"

"I'm going to sue you."

Azimio laughed. "What?"

Kurt smiled. "Since the school district has failed at protecting their students, I've decided to involve the proper authorities. The next time you lay your hands on me or shout homophobic taunts in my direction, I'll file a lawsuit against you and anyone else involved. Of course, since you're minors, that means I'll be suing your parents."

He gave the pack of jackals a feral grin. "Intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander, defamation of character, creating a hostile environment, assault and battery, and hate crimes. Some of those are felonies. I'll take your houses, your cars, your college funds, and have your parents' wages garnished. You'll be lucky to find accommodations in our town's singular homeless shelter, if you're not being held in a juvenile detention center. You can kiss college and any possible scholarships goodbye."

"You can't do that!" a panicked Brandon Meyers shouted.

"Of course I can," Kurt easily replied, "and we all know that I would. If the courts fail me, though I doubt they will, there are other avenues to explore." He turned to Azimio. "I notice Karofsky isn't with you today. I wonder why that is?"

Azimio's expression was thunderous.

Kurt yawned. "It's fascinating the quality and quantity of information one can uncover when one simply knows where to look. For example, Alex Kellerman here has a nasty cocaine problem. I happen to have pictures of him purchasing said cocaine from the homeless-smelling Brett Winters. It would be a terrible shame if those fell into the wrong hands."

Kellerman paled and quickly fled the scene.

"You're blackmailing Karofsky," Azimio hissed.

"Oh, not just him," Kurt happily corrected. "I have on enough all of you, as well as several others, to make your lives terribly difficult. Case in point: I know that you, Amazon, have a penchant for steroids. One word from me and Coach Sylvester will bypass Figgins altogether and institute a school-wide mandatory drug-testing policy for all athletes. If you're forced off the hockey team, your college opportunities are greatly diminished." He clucked. "And your poor parents. Whatever would they say?"

Fear lighted Azimio's eyes.

"So I want you to ask yourselves just one question," Kurt said, eyeing all of the jocks. "Is harassing me really worth the fallout that will result? Because I can and will ruin each and every one of you – happily – if you force me to do so."

"Fuck this," Johnson said. "Karofsky started all of this, for whatever reason, and it was pathetic then." He shook his head. "Look, Hummel, I don't give a shit that you're gay. Seriously. I've got a cousin who's into girls and she's awesome. You've never done anything to me, and for what it's worth, I'm sorry I was such an asshole. You don't have to worry about me anymore."

Four others mumbled similar sentiments and quickly departed, leaving Kurt alone with Azimio.

"What do you have on Karofsky?"

"That is none of your business," Kurt coolly replied. "He leaves me alone, I leave him alone. It's as simple as that. I gave him my word, and I won't go back on it. If anything happens to me because of you, Karofsky is the one who will suffer, and that will be your fault, not mine."

Rage coupled with a glimmer of respect informed the answering scowl.

"That goes for the rest of Glee, as well," Kurt warned. "Attack any one of us at your own peril." He smiled. "It's a brand new day, Azimio. A brand new day. If you want to survive it, stay clear of me and mine. Your secrets are safe with me and always will be." He glared. "As long as you leave us alone."

He arched a brow. "And just so we're clear, if anything happens to me, I've made provisions for the information I have to be released to the authorities, as well as Jacob ben Israel, so don't go getting any ideas." He leaned in toward the jock, eyes dark and murderous. "Don't fuck with me, little boy. You're in way over your head."

Azimio opened his mouth to retort, but just as quickly shut it. He gave one long, slow nod at Kurt, who returned the gesture.

"How did you find out?" asked a defeated Azimio.

"Private investigators."

Azimio meant to ask another question, but was cut off.


Azimio nodded again and backed away.

"One more thing," Kurt said in a low voice.

Azimio sighed and rolled his eyes.

"If anyone has a problem with our little arrangement, let me know." Kurt smiled again, so wide all of his teeth showed. "I'll take care of it."

Azimio was annoyed at the impertinence, but also amused, his mind wandering to all of those he'd like to see attempt to face off with Hummel. In fact, he might just have to engineer such a situation. He nodded again, this time more pleasantly, and took his leave.

Kurt swallowed heavily and released a long exhalation, willing his trembling hands to still. He jumped slightly when slow applause began.

"That was masterful, Mob Princess," Puck said, eyes alight with glee. "Truly masterful."

Kurt merely smiled. "Good morning, Noah."

And then he left, leaving a smirking and bemused Puck staring after him.

"I just don't see the point of school reconvening before Labor Day," sighed a frustrated Rachel. "As happy as I am to return to William McKinley and reestablish my prominence via the glee club and my many extracurricular activities, it seems foolish to open the doors when so many people are still on vacation or planning excursions for the long holiday."

Mercedes rolled her eyes but held her tongue, intent on organizing her locker for maximum efficiency prior to the start of classes. She looked at the picture in her hand – one of her, Quinn, and Beth in the hospital – and debated whether or not to hang it on the inside of her door. After Quinn had moved back in with her mother, it had become obvious fairly quickly that she was no longer interested in pursuing their friendship, if the many unanswered calls were any indication. It hurt. A lot. Still, she wasn't too surprised. She stowed the picture under a text book.

"We live in Ohio, Rachel," Artie said calmly, "and we have bad winters. They want us to start early so that we don't lose too many days to the eventual snow."

"I'm surprised Kurt's not here yet," Tina said, desperate for a change of topic which Rachel couldn't monopolize, and preferably one which didn't revolve around her own breakup with Artie or new relationship with Mike. And she absolutely did not want to hear any further details of Artie and Brittany's hookup.

Finn shrugged. "His plane didn't get in until early this morning. Burt said that Kurt probably wouldn't even bother going to bed. Knowing Kurt, though, he'll have a lot to do before he's ready to grace us with his fabulous presence."

"Watch your tone," Mercedes snapped.

He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean anything by it! But you know it takes him at least two hours to get dressed and put on his makeup or whatever."

Artie scoffed. "Kurt doesn't wear makeup."

Rachel stared. "He doesn't?"

Artie, Mercedes, and Tina shook their heads.

"You mean his skin just looks like that?" she screeched. "Naturally?"

Finn gaped, his fingers dancing around the zit on his chin he had tried and failed to cover up with tinted Clearasil.

"He's never had a pimple in his life," Artie smiled, "and he never intends to have one, either." He turned pensive. "I kind of hate him for that."

Tina nodded.

"That is so unfair," Rachel pouted.

Mercedes snorted. "He pays good money and spends a hell of a lot of time to keep his complexion flawless. Don't hate because it works."

"What time is Glee?" Finn asked, perusing his schedule and not noticing that it was upside down. "It is today, right?"

Rachel gave a swift nod. "Mister Schuester finally capitulated to my demands that he schedule at least three practice sessions a week, in addition to the block of class time that has been set aside. So we have it first period, and then again after school."

"I hope it doesn't interfere with football," Finn fretted.

Rachel beamed at him. "Don't worry. I made sure to take that into consideration. There will be no conflict."

He grinned at her. "So what are you all planning to sing today?"

Rachel began a long explanation about how she had prepared several selections, according to genre, decade, and relevance to the history of musical theater. Mike arrived during the middle of her diatribe and took Tina's hand, avoiding Artie's angry glare.

"Where's the Puckhole?" Mercedes loudly interrupted.

Finn grimaced. "Stalking Quinn or Santana, I'm sure."

"I don't need to stalk chicks, man," Puck replied, seemingly appearing out of thin air. "They come to me."

Everyone rolled their eyes.

He shrugged. "Besides, I left Quinn in the parking lot, mooning over Hummel."

"Kurt?" Mercedes demanded.

"He's here?" Tina squealed.

Puck nodded. "He has a sweet new ride, too. Guess he traded in the Navigator."

Artie was stunned. "I can't believe he gave up his baby."

Finn frowned. "Burt didn't say anything to me about that."

"Does Mr. H need to clear things with you now?" asked a snide Mercedes.

Finn scowled at her and fidgeted. He'd been trying to suck up to Burt all summer long in apology, but Burt wasn't having it. Finn knew it was Kurt to whom he should apologize, but he was so mortified and humiliated by his own behavior that he was too scared to approach the other boy. Instead, he had tried and failed to do it by proxy.

"What'd he get?" Rachel asked, trying to defuse the situation.

"Brand new Jeep Liberty," Puck said. "Silver. Not as pimping as the Navigator, but still awesome."

"He's walking into school alone?" Tina shrieked.

"Relax, Gothica," Puck snapped, rolling his eyes and ignoring Mike's shoulder punch. "He already met the Dumpster Douchebags. Begged them off, too, putting them on notice." The awe in his voice and in his eyes was bewildering for the others to behold. "It was fucking incredible."

Everyone gaped.

"How?" Mercedes finally asked, her voice a strangled whisper.

Puck grinned. "Blackmailed them. He's got dirt on all of them and told them if they touched him, he'd release the info, as well as slapping lawsuits on all of them and their parents." He tilted his head. "I'm pretty sure at least one of them pissed themselves. Hummel's like Sylvester 2.0."

Rachel scrunched her nose. "That's illegal! Kurt should know better than…"

"Oh, shut up, Rachel," Artie barked. "Why don't you go throw yourself in a dumpster or get locked in a port-a-crapper that gets knocked over? Then you can get back to us on how unfair Kurt was to the poor, misunderstood assholes."

Rachel wisely kept her mouth shut.

"Word," Puck said nodding, holding out his fist for Artie to bump.

Artie looked at the proffered appendage with suspicion before finally complying.

"That's not all," Puck bragged. "The Princess also told them that if they came after anyone in Glee, their ass was grass and he'd be the lawnmower. We're now a protected class."

They simply stared at him.

"Huh," Finn said. Kurt had just easily accomplished what he himself was supposed to have done all of last year. So, he just sucked all that much more and now everyone would have Kurt's back for sticking up for them. Great. Now he had yet one more reason to feel like a complete jackass.

"Why was Quinn fawning over Kurt?" Mercedes asked, a glint in her eye.

"Because dude gave himself a makeover," Puck answered. "No homo, but the Princess looks mighty fine. So damn fine that I'd consider switching teams, at least for one night."

Finn snorted. "Yeah, right."

Puck nodded. "Right."

Finn's mouth went slack.

"Where is he?" Mike asked. All summer long, Tina had raved about Kurt's awesomeness, and apparently the other boy was now tight with Matt, so Mike thought it a good idea to get to know him better. Kurt had always seemed like a cool dude and was an amazing dancer, but Mike had let fear of the judgment of others derail any friendship they might have developed.

Puck shrugged. "Got waylaid by Brittany and Satan." He shook his head. "Don't know what's going on there. I mean, by now I'm used to Brit hanging all over him, but I was shocked as shit when he and Santana starting making out right there on the steps."

"What!" Rachel, Mercedes, and Finn thundered.

Puck nodded. "All kinds of hot, man." He bit his lip. "It shouldn't have been. I mean, it really shouldn't have been. But it totally was. I seriously thought they were just going to fuck right there."

Mercedes scoffed. "Bitch, please."

Puck smirked. "I don't give a shit what you believe, LaBelle. But since you're so pressed, take a look for yourself." He nodded his head toward the front entrance, where Kurt walked through with Brittany and Santana on either arm.

"That's Kurt?" Finn whispered.

"Damn," Rachel breathed, eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.

"He's so hot," Tina whispered. "He was always cute, but now…

Artie stared, nodding. "Uh, yeah, you know, for a guy and everything."

"It's cool, Sit-n-Spin," Puck laughed. "I said I would hit it, and I totally would. Junk or not, the boy's a hot piece."

Artie flushed and scowled. "Stay away from him, Puck. He doesn't need your bullshit on top of everything else." He smirked and raised an eyebrow, still grateful to Kurt for teaching him that particular maneuver in fifth grade . "If he has something on all of the jocks, I wonder what he has on you? I'm sure there's a lot that was just waiting to be unearthed."

Finn winced. He should have been the one delivering that threat, but had been so overwhelmed by a foreign surge of fierce protectiveness toward Kurt, he had been blindsided.

Puck paled dramatically and his mouth moved, though no sound emerged. He stood there, blinking owlishly, as the others immediately flocked to Kurt's side.

Kurt watched the approaching storm with a wary eye, wondering just how the hell Rachel had managed to get to the head of the pack. Brittany looked utterly nonplussed while Santana was mumbling creative Spanish slurs under her breath. It took all of Kurt's willpower not to burst out laughing at her invective. He was also kind of digging how she had stuck her hand in his back pocket and was continually squeezing his ass.

"Kurt!" Rachel howled.

He immediately became alarmed. The fanaticism on her face was heart-stopping. Why on earth why she excited to see him? And she was approaching with the speed of the Bionic Woman.

Santana sighed and released her hold on the Mighty Ass to step forward and slightly in front of Kurt, hands on her hips.

"Seriously, Berry," she snapped. "I can smell your crazy from here. Calm the hell down."

Rachel's face fell slightly and she slowed her roll to a happy trot.

"Kurt!" she gushed. "I hope you've been practicing this summer despite your European adventure, because we have to be prepared for Vocal Adrenaline by Sectionals. Just because the nefarious Jesse St. James is no longer leading them doesn't mean we can afford to slack off, because you know that they'll…"

"Jesus, Barbra," Mercedes bellowed. "Shut up and let me say hello to my best boy." She beamed at Kurt and opened her arms wide. "Hey, baby!"

Kurt smiled and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly. "I missed you, gorgeous," he said, kissing her cheek.

She giggled and blushed, swatting his arm. "You've got guns, boy!"

He quirked a brow. "Exercise is important, you know. I have to be prepared for the lifts in Glee and Cheerios. So, yes, Rachel, I have indeed kept up with my dancing and vocals. Don't worry."

Rachel sniffed. "As if I would have any reason to worry about…"

"I see your enthusiasm for my return has already dwindled."

She shut her mouth and flushed.

"I still have the best guns, right?" Puck asked worriedly.

Kurt shrugged. "In my opinion, yes."

Puck beamed with triumph.

"You're so tan," Tina squeaked at Kurt.

He smiled. "The Mediterranean sun is quite strong. And, yes, before you ask, it also explains the hair. You know I would never use chemicals to treat it."

She nodded. "It's longer than I've ever seen it."

He shrugged. "You know how particular I am about my stylists. Even though Europe offers the very best, Veronica would murder me if I allowed the hands of another to alter my coiffure." He cocked his head. "I'm content to leave it this length for a while. It has volume and I really don't have to do anything to it. It's refreshing not having to worry about it."

Quinn, who had arrived from the other direction during Rachel's stampede, sidled up to him and began carding her fingers through his hair. "You mean this is natural?" she asked in a dreamy voice.

He nodded. "I stopped straightening it, due to the fact that I failed to take into account the difference of European outlets, so the natural wave took over. The longer it gets, the curlier it will become, but I'll cut it before then. Curls are a hassle for which I have little patience." He smirked. "You can stop touching it now."

She shook her head. "No, I really don't think I can."

He laughed and gently pushed her away. "Did you get my email?"

She nodded. "It's a fantastic idea, and Santana and Brittany are onboard. I actually think Sylvester will like it."

"What?" Rachel demanded.

Quinn curled a lip and glared at her. "Cheerios business, and none of yours."

"Kurt," Artie interrupted, "your clothes…"

Kurt beamed. "Do you like them? I'm still a little unsure. Dad liked them, but I don't know…"

"You look hot," Brittany cooed, placing her head on his shoulder.

"High praise indeed," he grinned, kissing her forehead.

"They're not your usual style," Mike ventured.

Kurt turned to his side to face the other boy, holding out his hand, at which Mike blinked before shaking. "Good morning, Mike. I hope your summer was well?"

Mike nodded dumbly.

"I grew about four inches, so obviously adjustments had to be made." He paused. "I guess you could say Europe informed my fashion choices. I decided a classic yet elegant, tailored look was more suiting." He shrugged. "So I designed a new wardrobe and had it commissioned."

Mercedes gawped. "You mean…this is all yours? You designed this?"

He nodded.

"You're very talented," Rachel said grudgingly.

"Thank you," was his easy reply.

He kissed Tina's cheek and exchanged handshakes with Artie and a confused Finn.

Finn found that Good morning, Finn was not as much fun as Well, hello there, Finn Hudson. There was no lilt in Kurt's voice, no flirty eyes or fluttery hands. He didn't like it.

"So were there any cute European boys who caught your eye?" Mercedes asked, winking.

Kurt chuckled. "No comment."

"That totally means yes!" Santana crowed, bumping his shoulder. "Spill, Hummel!"

"No comment," he sang.

She pouted.

Finn felt like someone had stuck a knife in his gut. Kurt was over him. But shouldn't he be happier about that fact?

"Let's coordinate our schedules!" Rachel squealed.

Everyone shrugged and whipped out their timetables.

"I have homeroom with Schuester," Finn noted.

"Me too," answered Quinn, Mike and Tina.

"I have Peters," Rachel sighed.

"Same," Puck and Artie said.

"I have McEntire," Mercedes said, wrinkling her nose.

"Brit, San, and I have Wyatt," Kurt said.

"Yay!" Brittany cheered.

Quinn shot them a jealous look. She knew that if she had been on the squad at the end of last year, Sylvester would have ensured she'd have had homeroom with her friends.

"Math?" Artie asked.

"Algebra II," Rachel, Finn, Mercedes, and Puck said. They were all in same period.

"AP Calc AB," Santana announced.

"Same," Mike and Quinn replied.

"AP Calc BC," said Kurt, Artie and, surprisingly, Brittany.

"How did you two do on the AB exam?" Kurt asked them.

"Four," said a bitter Artie. "I took too long with the second-to-last problem and couldn't finish on time."

"Three," Brittany said sadly, "but it's good enough to place me out of Calc I at OSU."

Almost everyone stared at her.

"What?" Santana snapped. "Brittany's smart."

Kurt and Artie nodded.

"How did you do?" Artie asked Kurt, a slight glare in his eyes.


Artie's glare intensified. "You got fives on everything, didn't you?"


Puck stared. "What else did you take?"

Kurt shrugged. "I took the exams for French, Spanish Language, Calc AB, Biology, U.S. History, English Language, English Lit, and Psychology."

"But you weren't even in all of those classes!" Finn protested.

"I studied for them on my own," Kurt replied blandly. "That is allowed, you know. Artie took the exams for Comp Sci and Macroeconomics, even though McKinley doesn't offer those courses."

"Well, we're all taking Chemistry," interjected a shaky Rachel, displeased that she hadn't thought of taking extra exams on which she knew she would've done well. "What classes are you guys in? I'm in the honors class," she smugly finished.

"So am I," said Puck and Brittany.

"Uh, regular Chem for me," Finn said softly, blushing.

"Me too," Mercedes said, obviously uncomfortable. She'd never been good at science.

"I'm in the AP class," Quinn said.

Santana, Artie, Mike, Tina, and Kurt nodded.

"Is everyone sticking with the same language?" Tina asked. "Now that we're juniors, we can switch after we've completed two years of one or the other, but I'm staying with Spanish."

"Me too," Mercedes, Finn, and Puck answered.

"I'm switching to French," Quinn sniffed. "It's more elegant."

"Salope," Santana muttered, at which Kurt smiled. "I'm sticking with French."

"Me too," said Brittany, linking their pinkies together.

"I'm switching to Spanish," said Artie. "French and I aren't really a good mix."

"French," Mike and Rachel answered.

"What are you going to do for a language, baby?" Mercedes asked Kurt. "Doesn't McKinley require you to have three years?"

He nodded. "But since I've received acceptable credit for both French and Spanish, I no longer have to study a language here. I already know Italian and German, at least enough to hold conversations, though my translations are very rough. The school doesn't offer a Latin program, unfortunately, and I picked up Portuguese and Irish this summer from my tutors." He shrugged. "So I don't have to take a language this year or next, but I've been thinking about learning Chinese."

Mike's eyes lighted. He was about to ask Kurt if he would be interested in his Chinese school when he was interrupted.

"Irish?" Finn slowly repeated. "That's a language?"

"He means Gaelic, sweetie," Rachel said, patting his shoulder. "They also speak it in Scotland."

"Gaelic? Is that, like, for gay people?"

Santana snorted with derision.

"Actually, I didn't mean that, Rachel," Kurt interjected, ignoring Finn's ridiculous comment. "Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, while similar, are not the same language. The former gave rise to the latter, as well as Manx."

Rachel wanted to argue the point for the sake of it, but shut up when Artie lightly punched her thigh.

"How do you know so many languages?" Finn demanded of Kurt. For some reason, he was furious with Kurt; furious with himself for the realization that as much as he thought he knew Kurt, the fact of the matter was that he didn't know the other boy at all. He just didn't understand why it bothered him so much.

"I have a facility with them, and Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese are all related, descended from Latin," the boy answered. "I don't understand why it's so shocking. Noah and Rachel are fluent in Hebrew, Mike in Chinese, and Santana is fluent in Spanish, and basically French as well. For her, the French class will be nothing but review. She's just brushing up for the AP exam. The same is true for Brittany, who's also fluent in Dutch, Danish, and German."

"Huh?" Mercedes intelligently asked.

"Quinn is fluent in Swedish and Polish, and Tina in Korean and Hebrew."

Those mentioned either shrugged or nodded.

"Rachel, Puck, and I were all in Hebrew school together," Tina added.

"We were?" Puck asked.

The girls rolled their eyes.

"History?" Artie asked.

"AP European History," Rachel said promptly, hoping she would share this class with more of her friends. "I know Finn's in it with me." She beamed at the tall boy, who responded with a lopsided grin.

"I'm in that one too," Mercedes said.

Quinn and Brittany both nodded, as did Mike and Puck.

"AP Government and Politics," Artie said.

"U.S. or Comp?" Santana asked.

"U.S.," Artie said. "I didn't think the Comp class was open to juniors."

She shrugged. "Anyone who got a five on the U.S. History exam is eligible. Simmons emailed Kurt and me and told us that we wouldn't get much out of it, but would give us study guides if we decided to take the U.S. Government exam."

"Kurt and I," Finn automatically corrected, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

Rachel winced.

"Wrong," Puck said. "Direct objects don't take subject pronouns."

Santana smirked at Finn, who frowned.

"What's a direct object?" He turned to Kurt for an explanation, making Rachel frown.

"I'm sure Rachel can explain it to you," Kurt smoothly replied.

Finn felt slighted, but Rachel beamed at him and happily began rattling off more grammar rules than he could ever hope to comprehend.

"How'd you know?" Mercedes asked Puck.

"Noah was in the AP English class," Kurt said.

"Since when do you call him Noah?" she demanded.

A curious Puck also looked his way.

"It's his name," Kurt said, effectively shutting down the interrogation.

"I'm in Artie's class," Tina said quietly. They looked at each other with a mixture of excitement, glad they wouldn't be alone in the class, and wariness.

"So the rest are electives?" Quinn asked. She wrinkled her nose. "Or the compulsory classes that should be electives?"

The others nodded.

"I've got two study halls," Kurt complained. "I don't see why they couldn't just let me leave campus early."

Several envious looks were leveled at him.

"Dude," Puck said, "shut up."

Kurt blushed. "Sorry. That was obnoxious."

"Well, at least all of us will have at least one Glee clubber in the core classes," Rachel grinned.

A few uttered halfhearted nonsensical rumblings, but they were all pleased.

"Glee's up first!" Finn cheered.

Brittany applauded. "I hope I get to sing today! Are we drawing names again? That duck keeps hiding from me."

"Did everyone complete their assignments?" asked a bossy Rachel.

They all mumbled that they had.

"What are we going to do about replacing Matt?" Quinn asked. "With only eleven members, we're ineligible to compete at Sectionals."

"I'm sure people will be lining up to join!" Rachel enthusiastically replied.

The Cheerios among them exchanged eyerolls, as did Puck and Tina.

"Why wouldn't they?" asked a defensive Rachel.

Several of the other girls began arguing with her as Kurt and Mike's phones trilled. Both boys withdrew their respective cells and glanced at the screen.

"Where's your old phone?" Mercedes asked Kurt.

"I decided to downsize," Kurt replied, before he and Mike both burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" asked a testy Mercedes.

Kurt shot her a look of annoyance and she backed off.

"Text from Matt," both he and Mike answered.

"Since when are you friends with Matt?" Mercedes asked.

"What is your problem?" Kurt calmly asked her.

Her eyes widened, surprised that he didn't attack her more forcefully. She didn't know why she was trying to provoke him, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. "You've just changed so much," she said softly.

"Am I supposed to apologize?"

She glared.

"I don't have time for this," Kurt said. "If you determine why you're so bothered by the fact that I've changed my manner of dress or have friends of whom you are unaware, we can discuss it at lunch. Otherwise, I need to prepare for my classes."

"Whoa," Puck whispered.

The others backed away, Santana smirking all the while. All of them were so inured to Mercedes' shrill demands on Kurt's time, they were stunned when he stood his ground and called her out with such confidence and ease.

"I don't like this new you," Mercedes said baldly.

Kurt tilted his head. "You mean you dislike that I don't spend my every moment in pursuit of your approval."

She grunted and flounced away, slowing down when she realized he wasn't coming after her. She glanced over her shoulder with startled eyes before again facing forward and stalking toward her homeroom.

"Are you okay?" Artie asked Kurt, who smiled.

"I'm just fine, but I appreciate you asking. Thank you, all of you, for staying out of that disagreement."

"Aretha's pissed," Puck said.

"Well," Kurt began, "that sounds like a personal problem, and not one of mine."

He turned around and began placing books into his locker. He loved her, he truly did, would gladly die for her, but their relationship had grown so close that it bordered on romantic. Mercedes treated him as though he were her boyfriend, her property. As much as it pained him, and it did, some distance would have to be injected between them.

The others exchanged surprised and worried looks.

"Um, excuse me," said a nervous voice.

As one, they all turned around to face Emma Pillsbury, looking curiously at the bewildered and overly blond boy standing behind her.

"Welcome back, all of you," she said, smiling anxiously. "Kurt, may I speak with you for a moment?"

"Of course, Ms. Pillsbury." He looked to his friends. "I'll see all of you in Glee."

"Hello Booty-full," Santana purred at the new boy, who suddenly looked alarmed.

Kurt laughed. "Boundaries, Santana. You don't need another restraining order on your record."

"Oh, my!" whispered a startled Ms. Pillsbury.

Santana mock-huffed at Kurt before linking pinkies with Brittany and strolling away, Artie rolling at Brittany's other side. Soon, the others departed.

"How may I help you?" Kurt politely asked the guidance counselor.

She grinned at him, now more at ease. She and Kurt had always been friendly, if distant, but she thought him a wonderful boy. She probably should have told him that before, she fretted.

"This is Sam Evans," she said, indicating the boy now standing next to her. "He's a new transfer student, formerly of Lincoln High in Tennessee."

Kurt put forth his hand. "Hello, Sam. My name is Kurt Hummel. Welcome to McKinley."

"It's nice to meet you," Sam said shyly, marveling at how soft the other boy's hand was.

"Kurt is a junior like yourself, Sam," Emma continued. "He's in the top three of your class, sings in Glee Club and, rumor has it, will soon be announced as the next head cheerleader. He was also on the football team last year."

"Briefly," Kurt qualified.

"Kurt, since you have two free periods in your schedule, I was hoping you would help Sam find his way around the school," Emma said.

Kurt nodded. "I'd be happy to oblige."

Sam couldn't believe this kid's manners. He dressed and spoke like an adult. He was also surprised by how high Kurt's voice was; not that it was in any way unpleasant, just unusual. His voice had a musical quality to it as well, therefore the fact that he was in the glee club wasn't surprising. The cheerleader thing certainly was, but looking at the boy's physique, Sam could see that it would lend itself well to the sport.

"Thank you, Kurt," said a grateful Emma. "I've had Sam's schedule changed so that he's in your homeroom. That way you can check in with each other in the mornings."

Kurt nodded.

"Also," Emma said hesitantly, "I know that you've signed up for the Peer Mentoring program, for which I'm extremely thankful, as many of the upperclassmen did not." She looked depressed. "I've assigned Sam to you. Sam has authorized me to tell you that he's mildly dyslexic, so he will most likely require tutoring in a few subjects."

"Probably all of them," Sam mumbled, blushing profusely.

"Hey," Kurt said softly, "please don't be embarrassed, Sam. There's nothing shameful about having a learning disability. You've taken steps to correct it, I'm sure, and you're reaching out for help. I really don't know how you could ask much more of yourself." He smiled. "Besides, I'm sure we've both suffered classmates who purposefully remain ignorant and probably aren't nearly as intelligent as you are."

Sam blushed harder, this time with pleasure.

Emma beamed at Kurt. "You're such a good boy, Kurt. Thank you so much. I knew I could trust you."

Kurt colored slightly. He was sure she hadn't meant it in a condescending manner, though she had sounded as though she were addressing a toddler or a puppy. He nodded.

"Sam, do you have your books?" he asked.

The other boy nodded. "All of them. I haven't been to my locker yet," he replied. "I've been in the administrative office or with Ms. Pillsbury since I arrived."

"That reminds me," Emma interjected, "I had Sam's locker placed next to yours, Kurt. Is that acceptable?"

"Of course," he answered. "I think I can take it from here, Ms. Pillsbury."

She smiled widely and nodded before scampering back to her office after handing them two passes which excused them from homeroom.

"She's nice," Sam said offhandedly.

"Last year I got drunk and threw up on her shoes after calling her Bambi," Kurt deadpanned.

Sam burst out laughing. "Seriously?"

"Liquid courage has consequences," Kurt replied, "but, yes, she is very nice. A little skittish, perhaps, but she means well."

"Is she a germophobe or something?"

"I believe she has obsessive-compulsive disorder," Kurt said. "I can't be certain, but it's likely. I myself have a mild form of it, though I've had behavioral therapy to lessen the symptoms."

Sam stared.

Kurt arched a brow. "Surprised?"

"Yeah," Sam admitted. "I mean, you just seem so together and you're a top student and involved in all kinds of stuff."

Kurt grinned. "Over-involved, some would say. I have a tendency to obsess, but I've been getting better at handling the signs, so hopefully I won't regress." He cleared his throat. "Why don't you let me have a look at your schedule so I'll be able to direct you as to where you need to go."

Sam nodded and handed it over before turning to fiddle with the combination on his locker. "I'm probably going to forget this by next period," he sighed.

Kurt looked up from the other boy's schedule. "Well, if you trust me, why don't you tell me your combination? If you need it later, I can just text it to you."

"Thanks!" He rattled it off and Kurt committed it to memory. "Should I give you my number, too?"

Kurt nodded and they exchanged phones, inputting each other's information.

After they returned the other's phone, Kurt looked back at Sam's schedule. "Study Hall first period? That's rather poorly planned, although," his look turned thoughtful, "I suppose it would help in completing any unfinished assignments prior to class."

Sam grinned. "That's how I'm looking at it."

Kurt playfully rolled his eyes. "I'll take you by homeroom so we can give our passes to Ms. Wyatt. She's very nice and is a terrific teacher. She's the Chair of the Science Department and teaches Chemistry and Physics."

Sam nodded and followed Kurt down the hall. "So what's your schedule like?"

Kurt wordlessly withdrew it from his pocket and handed it over.

Sam scanned it quickly. "Wow. You're, um, really smart, aren't you?"

Kurt made to place his hand on Sam's shoulder, but quickly stopped himself. "Sam, please don't feel self-conscious around me. I'm in advanced classes because I was in all kinds of afterschool and extracurricular programs when I was younger. Honestly, sometimes I'm not sure if I'm intelligent or just overly prepared."

Sam gave him the side-eye, sincerely doubting his claim. For what he had discerned from their brief interaction, the dude was a serious intellectual or something. "Do both your parents work?" he asked with sympathy. "Mine do, so for years, I had to take care of my little brother and sister."

"No," Kurt quietly replied. "It's just my dad and me. My mom died when I was eight."

Sam looked stricken. "Oh god, I'm so sorry," he said, wincing. "I have a real tendency to stick my foot in my mouth."

Kurt waved him off. "No worries. You couldn't have known. It's just a difficult subject for me to discuss. She's been gone half my life, but sometimes it feels like it was only yesterday." He swallowed. "There are some days that aren't so bad, and there are others which make me think I'll never survive the sadness."

Sam placed his hand on Kurt's shoulder and gently massaged it.

Kurt looked at him and gave him a watery smile. He just as quickly pulled himself together.

Sam marveled at this ability. He wrung his hands. "Can I ask you something?"

"You may."

Sam smirked. "Um, I was just wondering…"

"Yes, I'm gay."

Sam exhaled. "Sorry. I didn't mean you were obvious or anything, but I'm not too good with words and I didn't know how to ask without it being awkward. Because I'm pretty damn awkward."

Kurt chuckled. "It's fine."

"Is it hard for you? Here in this school, I mean?"

Kurt halted in his tracks and pulled Sam to the side of the hall.

"Sam," he said quietly, "are you gay?"

"Bi, actually," Sam whispered, staring down at the floor. "I prefer to be open about it, but at my last school…" He shuddered.

"I understand," Kurt said. "I can't lie and say McKinley is an advertisement for the No H8 campaign. I've been bullied relentlessly for a number of years."

Sam dropped his head back against the wall and sighed. "Fuck."

"I can't really counsel you one way or the other," Kurt said. "I understand and appreciate your desire to be out, but I can't say that I would recommend it. Unfortunately, I'm one of those gays who couldn't be closeted if I tried. I know I'm more than obvious and always have been." He paused. "I'm not telling you to hide who you are. This is a situation you'll have to judge for yourself. But whatever you decide, I promise that I can and will give you my full support."

Sam bit his lip. "I can't…you don't know what that means to me."

Kurt smiled ruefully. "I do."

Sam nodded and blinked several times. "I saw you have Glee Club first period. Just to make sure I'm on the right track, that's a singing club, right?"

Kurt nodded. "There were twelve of us, but my friend Matt Rutherford moved to Pennsylvania during the summer, so we're one member short. Unfortunately, we need twelve to qualify for competition, so we'll be attempting to recruit some new members. Sadly, Glee Club isn't highly regarded among our peers."

"Are you guys any good?"

Kurt laughed. "Well, I'm biased, but I rather think so. We won Sectionals last year, but were shut out at Regionals. We have the raw talent, but we do need some work, particularly on our choreography."

Sam nodded.

"Do you sing?" Kurt casually asked.

Sam blushed. "I like to, but I don't know if I'm actually any good. I, uh, don't really enjoy singing in front of other people. My family says I have a nice voice, but then I guess they kind of have to, right?"

"I guess that depends on the family involved," Kurt said, grinning. He fell silent for a moment. "If you'd like, you could probably sit in on our rehearsal this morning and see if you have any interest. No pressure, honestly, and you wouldn't be expected to perform. We had a summer assignment to prepare a song about something that happened on our vacation, though we probably won't get to everyone today."

"I'd like that," Sam said shyly.

Kurt nodded. "Here's our homeroom," he said, pointing at the door. "We'll go in so I can introduce you to Ms. Wyatt and then we'll drop by Ms. Pillsbury's office to get you a pass to miss your study period."

Sam nodded happily and followed Kurt into the classroom.

Ms. Wyatt paused from taking roll to look up at the late arrivals. "Good morning, Kurt," she smiled. "I assume you have a pass?" she asked teasingly, arching a brow.

He clutched his heart dramatically. "You wound me, Ms. Wyatt. I would never part from you if given the choice."

She rolled her eyes and held out her hand for the passes, but was all but knocked out of the way by Brittany.

"Kurty!" She then proceeded to press a scorching kiss to his lips.

Sam's mouth fell open.

Once he was allowed to pull away, Kurt did and sighed. "Brit, we've talked about this."

Her bottom lip wibbled. "But I missed you."

"Sweetie, we just saw each other ten minutes ago."

She sighed dramatically and draped herself over him. "Like sands through the hourglass…"

Santana began laughing her ass off.

"Not in school, Brit," Kurt said gently yet forcefully, disentangling himself from her grasp.

She pulled at her ponytail. "So that means after Glee this afternoon, right?"

"We'll see," Kurt said, blushing as more classmates began snickering.

"Okay, Dolphin!" She bounced back to her seat and smiled charmingly at everyone, waving.

"Dolphin?" Sam whispered.

"Later," Kurt hissed.

Ms. Wyatt was desperately trying to swallow her laugh, but ended up snorting instead, so severely that her eyes began to water. "And who is this gentleman with you?" she asked Kurt.

Kurt pushed Sam forward. "This is Sam Evans. He's a new transfer and will be in our homeroom. Say hello to the class, Sam."

Sam gave a small wave to the room. "Hi."

"I'm Sam's Peer Mentor, so I'm showing him the layout of the school," Kurt added.

"I bet that's not all you're showing him!" Jason Peterson piped up, confused when several jocks and Santana Lopez began yelling at him to shut up, though Santana used more colorful language.

Kurt merely raised an eyebrow. Apparently word had spread about his deal with Azimio and the others, though not to everyone. Well, they'd all learn soon enough. The information he had on Peterson was more than explosive and, as soon as he had confirmation, he'd be happy to release it, just to be a bitch. And because it was the right thing to do, of course.

"I have no problem showing you to detention this afternoon, Mr. Peterson," Ms. Wyatt said coldly. "You can embrace it with open arms for the next three days."

Peterson flushed heavily and slumped down in his seat.

"I'm sorry for the interruption, Ms. Wyatt," Kurt said stiffly. "If you'll excuse us, we need to speak with Ms. Pillsbury."

Ms. Wyatt nodded sharply, still glaring at Peterson. "I'll see you in Chemistry, Kurt. Good to meet you, Sam."

"Thank you, ma'am," Sam mumbled, before allowing Kurt to guide him from the room.

Once the door shut behind them, Sam released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"It's okay," Kurt said calmly. "To be fair, you might receive some flak for being seen with me, but just explain to whoever gives you grief that I was assigned to be your mentor. You had no choice in the matter. Feel free to tell them you despise me."

Sam gaped at him before scoffing. "Kurt, I'll admit that I was surprised that asshole was so…blatant, especially in front of a teacher, but I'm not going to…to deny you or something. You're the first person my age I've met in this town, and you seem like an awesome dude. I'd like to think we're going to be really good friends, and I don't care if people have a problem with that."

He was distressed by how shocked Kurt appeared. Damn, didn't this kid have friends? Well, besides that hot blond who'd been macking on him. But who wouldn't want to be friends with him? He then remembered the crowd around him when Pillsbury introduced them. They had all seemed pretty tight, but now he wondered about that.

"By the way," Sam said smoothly, "why the hell did that girl call you a dolphin?"

Kurt burst out laughing and shepherded Sam toward the guidance office, explaining as they walked.