A/N: This is the first in at least a three-part story. Thanks to nubianamy, always, for the inspiration.

Blaine knew all the tricks, all the signs. He wasn't good at a lot, but he was good at hiding. He'd had enough practice; he'd been doing it since he was so young that he didn't even have a clear memory of doing it. And that very first day, when he'd put on his best show face and taken the hand of the most ethereal-looking boy he'd ever seen, led him down the hall and into the cocoon of the Senior Commons and the Warblers, that was the first time he could remember his wall crumbling all on it's own.

Most of the time, Blaine had to take it down, brick by slowly revealed brick, only one or two at a time so that he could keep the deepest parts of himself buried away.

But the boy. Blaine knew, at that first touch, that the boy was as broken and hidden as he was. That he was safe. And then the look on his face when Blaine sang, I know you get me so I let my walls come down, it had gone straight to Blaine's core. And Blaine wondered, for the first time in his whole life, if it were possible that there was someone out there who wouldn't be afraid of the twisted parts of him.

There were lots of ways to be broken, and even more ways to try and fix yourself; you couldn't grow up a child of privilege, with the people and places that Blaine knew, and not know that. As if his own family weren't enough of an example, Blaine only had to look to the Finches next door, or half the boys in his cabin at that stupid preppy camp his parents had sent him to before Freshman year, beer in their footlockers and pot in their hiking packs. Blaine had spent the summer pretending, learning to gag down warm beer and mask his red-rimmed eyes by sitting too close to the nightly campfire, awkwardly holding hands with a quiet, mousy girl from their counterpart cabin and resisting the urge to seek sanctuary at the unused piano in the main barn. He'd known that if he couldn't fit in there, with those kids in their Exeter and Andover and St. Georges shirts, then he'd never fit in anywhere, and he hadto fit in.

He couldn't go home having failed at something so simple.

He hadn't failed, of course. He'd learned that pot made him more jittery than usual, so he made sure to stay away. He'd learned that beer tasted terrible but made him lessjittery, less likely to be a complete loser in the social situations that scared him, so he used it perhaps a little more than he should have. He'd been the life of his cabin, always the first one with a joke or a witty retort, but ask any of those identically tanned and happy boys anything about the kid from Ohio and they wouldn't have been able to drudge up a single detail.

Blaine kind of liked it that way, because it meant he could try on lots of different personae.

But none of them felt real.

He thought that if he just kept morphing, adapting, then he'd stumble into the realBlaine Anderson.

He just didn't want to wait for him forever.

"I thought you were getting a better handle on your problem," Blaine's father marched into the kitchen and dropped a tri-folded page with the Dalton crest on the letterhead next to Blaine's Cocoa Krispies. Blaine had to think for half a second about what problem his dad was talking about, but then it was staring up at him in 12-point print.

Blaine is an intelligent, charming young man, a true leader in the classroom and in his extracurriculars. But his enthusiasm is sometimes disruptive in class, as Blaine has a tendency to express himself in situationally inappropriate ways.

Oh. That problem.

Blaine poked his spoon into his bowl, disturbing the bottom layer of cereal that had gone soggy in the scant half an inch of milk he'd poured, and leaned back in his chair.

"I'm working on it, Dad."

"Not hard enough, apparently." Blaine watched his father tuck the morning newspaper and a banana into his briefcase before he started on his coffee, splash of milk and half a Splenda. He eyed Blaine over the rim of his travel mug as he screwed on the lid. "I need you to work harder at it, Blaine. I know there's nothing we can do about your . . . other thing-"

"Me being gay, you mean?" Because god forbid his father actually admitthat Blaine liked boys.

"Yes. That. I know we can't change that, so I need you to change this. You're too old, Blaine. You can't just behave that way and expect to get the things you deserve. You need to improve, to showeveryone that you're worthy of their time and attention." His father swiped his keys from where they always sat, neatly next to his cell phone and the spare change he cleaned from his pockets at the end of every day. He glanced back at Blaine once before settling his hand on the doorknob. "I have late rounds tonight, and then your mother and I are having dinner with the Morris'."

"Okay." Blaine knew what that meant, a dinner of whatever he felt like, or whatever he scrounged together from what he could find in fridge or freezer, eaten alone at the kitchen table with a book for company.

He felt like a bad son, because he honestly preferred the company of a book to the judging silence of his parents, but he couldn't say that to his father, so he just nodded and watched his father slip out into his day. Blaine skimmed the top layer cereal, and popped a dry, crispy spoonful into his mouth before he pushed the bowl away. Then he reached for his phone, tapped a text to Kurt: meet for coffee before school?

He didn't realize he'd been holding his breath until his reply tone chimed: on my way.

Blaine was early. He was always, forever, compulsively early, trained young and properly by his exacting parents. Most of the time, he felt awkward about it because it usually left him waiting, alone and glaringly out of place. But being early for coffee with Kurt meant that he had an excuse to buy Kurt's nonfat Mocha and cranberry orange scone without it becoming a Thing between them. He doctored his coffee, light and just on the edge of too sweet, and picked at his own muffin while he waited for Kurt to slide through the door, perfect hair and his uniform fitting just so, and some kind of cream or lotion or aftershave that lingered just enough in any space he occupied to send Blaine sniffing the air at even a hint of it left behind in the hall or a vacant classroom. Once he was there, the deep blue of his sweater lighting up his eyes and his hands moving delicately through the air telling a story about his latest eBay find, Blaine found that he was more relaxed than he'd been since leaving Kurt in the Dalton parking lot the previous evening.

He kept watching Kurt's hands, breaking off pieces of his scone, cupped around his coffee, twirling a coffee stirrer over and under his fingers in a practiced motion. He bit back the urge to reach out and toucheven though he wanted to. Wanted to feel that grace seep into him, because maybe if he could be close to Kurt like that he'd stop being such a spaz himself.

"My parents won't be home for dinner tonight," he finally blurted out, like it was a confession.

Kurt's eyes lit up, bright and brilliant blue made stronger by his sweater. "We should do something, then. It's Wednesday."

Like there was something special or different about Wednesdays that Blaine didn't understand, so he just tilted his head and raised an eyebrow and waited.

Kurt nodded at him, and smiled lightly. "It's free-for-all night at my house. Dad plays cards with his friends, Carole has book club or knitting, and I'm not sure what Finn does, I think maybe family dinner at Rachel's."

Blaine watched his eyes drift, like he was thinking about something, until his gaze caught on the dog-eared paperback peeking out of Blaine's bag. Blaine shifted in his chair, reached his hand out to shove the book farther in, to let it be swallowed by History and Trig and The Scarlet Letter, but Kurt stops him.

"What are you reading?" His voice was gentle, and Blaine knew that he should be ashamed for picking something no high school student would be caught with, but he'd needed the escape of an old favorite. He picked the slim volume up and placed it on the table, and watched while Kurt ran his hand over the cover.

"The Giver," he whispered, fingering the places where the pages were bent and wrinkled. "I read it the summer after my mom died."

Blaine blinked, because he hadn't read it until middle school, and even then it had been hard, emotional going on his best days.

"Don't look at me like that. I was always reading above myself."

"But- didn't it hurt?" Because the first reading had hurt Blaine, made him breathless and sad and aching for Jonas and all of his burdens.

Kurt's face went kind of distant then, for the briefest of moments, before turning back to him with clarity. "Yes, but it was goodhurt." And then Blaine could see how desperate Kurt was for him to understand, could feel it in the warm touch of those graceful fingers on his wrist, just at the edge of sleeve of his blazer where the liner stopped and an eighth of an inch of scratchy wool left his skin irritated. "Sometimes the things that hurt can be good for you."

Blaine didn't want to think about that; he just wanted to keep feeling Kurt's fingers on his skin, because they tethered him, kept him present. Kept him real. He breathed into Kurt's touch. "So what are we going to do tonight?"

Kurt smiled at him and tapped the cover of the book with his finger. "Take-out, whatever you want. And then I'm going to read to you."

Blaine knew it wasn't a date. It couldn't be a date, because Kurt was simply the best and most honest friend Blaine had ever had, but Blaine had also never felt so intimate with anyone as he did with Kurt, sitting on opposite corners of his bed eating Chinese take-out from cardboard containers while Kurt read The Giverin his flawless voice.

It was silly. It was child-like. Blaine felt like he should be embarrassed, because beingread to had been something he'd lost so young, but he'd never stopped craving it. Kurt's voice was smooth, steady, even as he reached the scene that never failed to leave Blaine shaky and breathless, when Jonas first understands what happens at the House of the Old.

Blaine drew in a ragged breath, and Kurt paused in his reading, looking over the edge of the book at him. "You okay?"

Blaine knew he had the lie in him, but he couldn't tell it. Not to Kurt. He shook his head. "This scene. The first time, it was so shocking. I almost think it's worse, now, because I knowwhat happens."

Kurt shifted, stretched his legs and pressed his sock-clad foot against the outside of Blaine's thigh. Blaine leaned into the contact gently, because they were very careful about touching each other. Blaine knew that touch scared Kurt, after everything with Karofsky. And honestly, Blaine didn't know how to offer it in any way at all, so they sort of danced around it most of the time. But every once in a while, when they each had some chinks in their brickwork, they managed something like this.

And damn, it felt amazing.

"Why do you keep coming back to this book?" Kurt had turned it, pages down, on the perfectness of Blaine's bed, and Blaine resisted the urge to reach his finger out and run it over the broken spine.

"I had to read it for school, the summer between 5th and 6th grade. I was still in public school then, I'm not really sure why. Because none of the kids in the neighborhood go to public school. But anyway, my father wanted me to finish my summer reading right after school let out." Blaine shook his head at the memory, of his father checking his progress every night to make sure the work was getting done. "He's got that perfectionist thing going on, you know?"

Kurt nodded. Blaine had only brought Kurt over a handful of times when his dad was home, because Kurt was exactly the kind of boy Blaine's father disapproved of, the kind of boy who made him disapprove of Blaine just a little more, too.

"I saved this one for last." Blaine remembered the stack of books, piled neatly on the edge of his desk with their accompanying worksheets, everything finished and filled in by the last week of June. Except for The Giver. He remembered his father's nightly frown, and the light thrill Blaine got from trying to buck at his father's orders. It was the first time he'd overtly disobeyed his father, and it was the first time in his memory that he'd felt like he had any control over his world.

By Fourth of July, it was a silent battle, and Blaine held his ground against the taking away of his tv and video game privileges and weekend trips to the country club pool. He held out until the hottest part of August, because school was going to start soon and he didn't have a choice. So one brilliant blue morning he'd crossed the dewy grass and flopped into the hammock, and grudgingly opened the stiff cover that had been taunting him all summer.

And he'd fallen.

From the first page, he'd understood. It wasn't so far for him to go, really, to see how living his father's life was just like Jonas living in a world where someone else controlled everything about you. As he devoured page after page, he'd started to know that there were choices to be had, risks to take. That there was morethan what he'd always known.

When he'd finally reached the end, the imagined cold and snow disappearing into brilliant sun, he turned back to the beginning and started again.

He smiled at the memory, and looked into Kurt's gentle, beautiful face. "This is the book that made me love to read. It was the first time I got lost."

Kurt nodded, and reached a tentative finger out to rest on the back of Blaine's hand. "You know that you don't have to be perfect for me, right?"

Blaine gulped. "I didn't- I wasn't-" He didn't really understand what Kurt was telling him, because they'd just been talking about a book.

"I know. There's a lot you didn't tell me, but I understand, Blaine. You don't have to be any way with me. Just you."

Blaine put his hand out and pulled the book towards him. He didn't know what to say, or even how to be, because he didn't even know whohe was. He picked the book up and smiled at Kurt. "Why don't I read, and you can listen for a while?"

Kurt had been sort of silent and more than a little distant in the half-week since Blaine had gotten him to sing "Baby, It's Cold Outside"; at first, he'd thought it had everything to do with Mr. Schuester's visit, but when Blaine slipped in next to him in the cafeteria line and tried to pin him down about coming to the show, Kurt had just snapped at him, slammed a bowl of tapioca onto his tray, and wheeled away. Blaine watched him go, watched him squeeze a chair between David and Thad, and watched him shoot daggers at Blaine while he stabbed at his lunch.

And Blaine felt both stupid and entirely oblivious because he had no freaking cluewhat he'd done.

Oh, well, Anderson. It isn't the first time. It won't be the last.

But the distance he was feeling from Kurt was uncomfortable, and it was made worse every time Blaine brushed his hand against the cool softness of Kurt's Christmas present, wrapped and carefully set in his locker, every time he changed out his books between classes. When the last bell before vacation rang at 3 pm, Blaine grabbed the package and dashed through the crowded halls to Kurt's locker, hoping to catch him, but he was already gone.


Blaine felt frantic with energy, the absolute need he had to try and make things right as best he could. He took the broad stone steps at the front of the building two at a time, and scanned the parking lot for the hulking shape of Kurt's Navigator. There, his brain screamed as his eyes caught it, and Kurt's very dark silhouette leaning against the front grille. His pea coat was unbuttoned, and even after a full day of classes his shirt was perfectly tucked and his sweater was pristine. He was lovely, and Blaine wasn't sure what to do with that feeling at all, because he and Kurt were just friends and he couldn't stand to push Kurt away because of the stupid way he always was when he felt too much.

Blaine felt like a whirlwind, darting through people and cars because he simply hadto be in Kurt's space, absorb the feel of him into his frayed nerves. He pulled up in front of Kurt, and pushed the package out awkwardly.

"I'm glad I caught you. Merry Christmas."

Kurt turned the package over in his hands, and eyed Blaine cautiously before reaching into his own bag for a small rectangular something, neatly wrapped in sparkly silver paper with white snowflakes. "Merry Christmas, Blaine." Kurt's voice was sad tinged with hope, and it sent Blaine reeling with words.

"I'm sorry, Kurt. I'm not sure, I don't know- I mean." Breathe, Anderson. Breathe and try again."I didn't mean to make you upset. I- I really liked singing with you."

Kurt ran a finger cautiously over the taped edges of the wrapping paper. "I liked singing with you, too. We sing well, together."

Blaine nodded, and moved a little closer in to Kurt's space. "I really like you, Kurt. But I- God. I'm kind of a mess when it comes to things like this, and I don't want to lose you as a friend. I just- I don't know how to doanything except be your friend."

Kurt pushed himself up off the Nav, so that he was not quite touching Blaine anywhere, but Blaine could feelhim, and it was electric. "Let's just do that, then. Be friends." Kurt turned his head and blinked, and Blaine knew but didn't want to believe that he'd made Kurt cry. Kurt took a light, shaky breath, and when he turned back his eyes were clear. "I can be your friend, Blaine," he said with startling but resigned conviction. "Now. You first." He nodded at the package Blaine was holding.

It was thin-ish, pliable. Blaine popped the corner of tape on the edge and unwrapped carefully, smoothing the creased edges of paper on his knee. It was a brand-new, pristine copy of The Giver. "Open it," Kurt whispered, still in his space. Blaine flipped to the title page, where there was an inscription that made Blaine blink a few times because he didn't understand.

"I contacted her," Kurt said, nodding to the page. "Sent it, and she signed it."

Blaine didn't think, just threw his arms around Kurt, held him tight and close. "Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou," he repeated, over and over into Kurt's ear around the scent he knew only as Kurtand the fast beating of both of their hearts through layers of cotton and wool. When Blaine felt Kurt's arms around him, hugging back, he thought maybe he'd never been so at home, anywhere.

"I lo-" he started to say, and then stopped, pulled back, because he wanted and he was such a damn mess all the time, and he could hear his father's disapproving voice, you don't even know how to be a real friend, you can't be around a boy without wanting him, without being deviant and his own fears echoing back at him, you're not okay, this isn't right, you can't do this, not to Kurt.

But when he looked, really looked at Kurt and saw openness and want and something else soft and gentle in his eyes, Blaine wondered if he was really as bad and wrong as he felt all the time. Because he knew in that moment that Kurt loved him, and if Kurt could feel that, then maybe he wasn't some terrible thing.

Kurt put an arm around his waist, easy, like they'd been doing things like that forever, and Blaine had to fight not to pull away. "It's okay, Blaine. Friends. We don't have to be anything else to each other."

"Open your package," he uttered with a shaky voice, and he took a calming step back to give Kurt space to unwrap his gift. He was giddy with it, and it made Blaine smile to watch him tear into the paper, leaving little shards of it from the places Blaine had gone a little overboard with the tape scattered on the cement of the parking lot. When the paper was gone and Kurt was digging his hands into the soft folds of the most amazing scarf Blaine had been able to find, Blaine had to touch him again. He took the scarf, wide with all these intricate raised patterns, and unfolded it so that he could wrap it around Kurt's neck. He smiled when Kurt buried his face into the softness.

"It smells like you," he said, almost in wonderment.

"It's been in my room for over a month."

"Mmmm. I loveit. I'll wear it every day."

Blaine reached out again, patting the edge of the scarf lightly where it rested on Kurt's chest, and smoothing the lapels on his coat. "It looks good on you."

"I- I should- Rachel's having some kind of get together tonight."

"You should go." Blaine moved out of the way so that Kurt could get to the door.

"Your show. It's on Friday night?"

Blaine nodded. "8 o'clock. I only have the one song."

Kurt smiled and climbed up into the driver's seat. "It's a good song. You'll be great doing it. And I'll be there to see you."

Blaine tried to wave him off. "You don't have to-"

"Yes," Kurt said, resting his hand atop Blaine's where he was gripping the door. "I do, because I'm your friend and I will always love to watch you sing."

"Thank you." Blaine held his book up, but he was really thanking Kurt for so much more that he didn't have the words for. And he could tell that Kurt knew it.

"You're welcome," he said, smiling at Blaine all open and light.

Blaine waited until Kurt had his seatbelt on and his iPod docked before closing the door and watching him as he pulled out of the parking space. Blaine waited there, with flakes of wrapping paper on his shoes, until Kurt had driven off, onto the street and out of sight.

"I think I love you, Kurt," he whispered mostly to himself, now that it was silent and safe.

He shook with the truth of it, heavy in his chest and light in his limbs, felt the joyof admission for a brief minute before he had to swallow it all down and step back into his life.

Blaine slumped against the hard back of the wooden bench, eyes closed and waiting, wishingfor a hole to swallow him up. "I'm so embarrassed," he moaned for the hundredth time in the half hour since the Warblers had been asked to leave The Gap. David and Wes and Nick had loaded the rest of the guys in to their cars and headed back to school, but Kurt had stayed and soothed Blaine with words and the most careful, gentlest of touches.

"Don't be. We all do silly things when we're not thinking right," and Blaine knew that Kurt was telling the truth. He'd heard the whole story about the first attempt at Hudson-Hummel household sharing. "But Blaine?"

Blaine opened his eyes into the harsh brightness of the cold day. "Yeah?"

"What wereyou thinking?"

"He- he was nice, funny. I thought he liked me." Blaine didn't say the things that had made him feel a little funny, like the way Jeremiah often seemed annoyed with the very essence of Blaine's high school self, or the pushy way Jeremiah had been last Thursday night, his hands rough and cool under Blaine's shirt, his body insistent in a way that made Blaine afraid in the instant before he'd pulled away and fumbled out of Jeremiah's car into the night. He didn't tell Kurt about wanting to do things even when he didn't, really, to make Jeremiah like him, or about the way Jeremiah's lips tasted, bitter and warm from his strong, black coffee. Nothing about Jeremiah was remotely close to anything about Kurt, not even his long fingers and delicate wrists that were brittle and hard where Kurt's were soft and fluid.

He couldn't say the worst of it, the part that made him feel like the worst friend in the world: I though he would help me forget about you.

"He's too old for you, really," Kurt said, reaching his gloved hand out to cover Blaine's own. "And his hair? Blaine. His hair!"

Blaine was so very grateful for Kurt in that moment, because it was entirely possible that Kurt already knew the worst of it, allof it, because he knew Blaine. And he knew that the best thing to do to pull Blaine out of himself was to make him laugh.

The two of them sat there, laughing at Blaine, and poor unknowing Jeremiah (his hair!, Kurt would mutter when they had settled down, and it would send them off again)until silly tears turned icy on their cheeks. When they were finally done and Blaine felt a little less foolish, Kurt drove them to the Lima Bean and bought Blaine a coffee before confessing his affections.

The thought of it made Blaine a little flushed, but he couldn't want too much because he had just proven, yet again, how freaking inept he was at so many things. So he said nothing, just watched Kurt drink his mocha and thought about how sweet and smooth he would taste, chocolate and cream to mask the bitter of the coffee.

"I'm going out tomorrow night," Blaine said, setting his fork on the edge of his plate and wiping his lip gently with his napkin before he looked up at his parents.

"Where, and with whom?" His father peered at him over his nose, through the lenses of his glasses.

"One of Kurt's friends from McKinley is having a party, for Kurt's old glee club. He invited me."

"You won't know anyone there." Blaine watched his father scrape the gravy off his pork chop before he started trimming around the edges to get rid of the fat. "Isn't there something you could do with some of your Dalton friends?"

"Kurt is a Dalton friend, Dad. And I know his brother Finn, and his friend Mercedes. It's going to be fun, and silly, and exactly what we all need so close to Regionals."

"There are better ways to spend your time than on fun and silly." His father's voice was stiff, cold.

"Oh, honey." Blaine's mother pushed her spinach into a pile on her plate and sipped at the wine in her glass. "Let him go. There's nothing wrong with fun. He works so hard all the time," she said, rubbing the back of Blaine's hand in a gesture of what Blaine was sure she saw as comfort.

"Not hard enough," Blaine heard his father say, under his breath, before raising it again. "I don't like Kurt. I don't think he's the right kind of friend for you."

"Because he's gay?" Blaine asked after he'd swallowed a forkful of glazed carrots. "Or because his dad is a mechanic?"

"He's not our kind of people, Blaine."

Blaine crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto his half-full plate. "Dad. If you don't like Kurt being gay, if that makes him not our kind of people, then I'mnot our kind of people either."

"We're not talking about you here."

Blaine pushed his chair away and stood on shaky legs. "Yes, Dad. We are. We're talking about me, and who I am and the things I can't change about myself."

"If you worked harder, if you worked at this like you worked at your other problems, you could get better."

Blaine was halfway across the kitchen in a heartbeat, thinking about the sanctuary of his room and his cell phone and I need to talk to Kurt when his father's hand grabbed, hard and rough at his arm. Blaine startled and turned into his father's angry gaze. "How can you be a doctor and still believe lies like that? This is me, Dad. There is no better. There's just me." Just me, he thought as he pulled his arm away and dashed up the stairs, just stupid spazzy Blaine, always trying and never enough.

Blaine followed Kurt down the stairs into Rachel's basement, feeling out of place without the comforting invisibility of his uniform, and tried to shut off his father's critical words that had been rattling around in his brain since the previous night. He needed to shut that voice out, so he took the first drink he'd been offered and downed it a little faster than he should have. But it did its intended job: it made him less jittery and his brain buzzed pleasantly in tune with the music that was blasting. Two more drinks, and he knew he was already both feet into goofball-spaz mode; he could feel his limbs loosening and his speech slurring. But he also felt free, like the alcohol gave him permission to revel in the things he worked so hard to suppress every day. So when the spinning amber of the beer bottle landed on him and he knew that Rachel was going to be on the other end, loud and demanding, he didn't worry about it.

He tuned out Kurt behind him (This is outstanding!) and all the half-strangers in the rest of the circle, and focused just on Rachel, on the softness of her lips and the smell of her shampoo and the way that his father's voice trickled into his thoughts, this is what you're supposed to want, supposed to do.

It felt . . . fine, for what it was, and it made Blaine a little happy to know that he couldkiss a girl if he wanted to. And it made his father's criticisms fall blissfully silent.

He probably wouldn't have done anything more about it except for filing kissing Rachel Berry next to singing to Jeremiah in his growing folder of "been there, done stupid shit", but then Rachel had called him. Asked him on a date. And even though what he wanted was Kurt, open and giving and so blissfully unashamedof having shared a bed with Blaine after the party, he said yes to Rachel.

He didn't know how to explain it to Kurt, that need to do just one thing right in his father's eyes, so he put the date off onto being confused (really, Blaine, what were you thinking?), and he'd mustered every ounce of righteous anger he'd felt about anything in his life to stage a storm-out, leaving Kurt alone at the Lima Bean.

Blaine felt terrible about it, and cried all the way home mostly because he didn't know how to fix things with Kurt, but also because he was more ashamed of himself than he'd ever admit. He'd liedto Kurt, despite their promises of honesty. He'd let his father's distance and fear and coldness take over.

And that scared him, because if he could give into his father on something like taking a girl on a date, how many otherthings would he acquiesce to, given time and the right words?

The date was pleasant, the kind of soft and sweet thing Blaine had always expected a date to be, but it didn't send his heart racing, and holding Rachel's hand didn't zing him the way even the idea of holding Kurt's did. When he'd dropped Rachel off at her silent, empty house, he'd wanted to drive over to Kurt's and apologize. Wanted to tell him the jumble of things in his head that began with I think I love you and ended with how can I be your everything when I'm not even enough for myself?. But he couldn't do that either, so he just drove back to his own silent and empty house and tried not to hate himself too much.

Friday after school, he'd lingered behind, hoping for a chance to talk with Kurt, to make things right, but Kurt raced out of Warbler's practice like something was on fire, so Blaine took his time wandering over to the Lima Bean, and was kind of in a daze thinking about whether he really wanted his usual medium drip when Rachel was suddenly there, rising up on her toes to kiss him. And it was all the same things it had been at the party, but it wasn't rightand Blaine knew it, smiled into the realization of it. Even the most abstract parts of his sexuality had been like clarity to him, made sense in a way nothing else in his world did.

"Do I need to say I told you so?" Kurt asked through guarded eyes when Blaine finally settled into the chair opposite him that Rachel had vacated.

"No." Blaine lowered his gaze to the pile of sugar packets he was working through to get his coffee just right. "I- god, Kurt. I'm really sorry for all of this. I just-"

"You just what?"

Blaine stirred his coffee and took a sip, sighed at the exact right proportions of coffee to cream and sugar, and tried to figure out which were the most important of all the words jumbled up in his head.

"I had a fight with my father, the night before the party."

Kurt nodded, and waved his hand, urging Blaine to continue. "He told me again that he basically wanted me to work harder at not being gay."

Kurt snorted and shook his head. "He doesn't get it, does he?"

"No. And sometimes . . . okay, all the time, I listen a little too hard to what he wants."

"So, what? You thought that going out with Rachel would make your dad happy?"

"No. Well. Kind of? I just thought, if I could be more of what he wanted, then maybe I'dbe happier. Because-" Blaine stopped and took a breath, and swallowed, because he couldn't admit his own fears to Kurt, not like this.

Kurt reached across the table and tapped his fingers against Blaine's, and Blaine looked into his eyes, saw warmth and unspoken understanding there staring back at him. "Because what, Blaine?"

"Because . . . dammit." Blaine got tangled in his words, and finally let them out in a rush of sound. "Because if I could make him like me, then maybe I'd like myself, too."

There was no pity at his statement, just Kurt, strong and silent and soft fingertips, and for a few brief moments Blaine's buzzing brain went silent.

It was so much better than alcohol.

For a while, Burt hadn't been able to figure out wha twas going on between Kurt and Blaine. He'd watched Kurt fall into an intense friendship so fast he'd almost gotten whiplash, and then he'd waited for the inevitable signs of Kurt's heartbreak. But the sad music and harsher than usual retorts and days of closed-door silence never came. There was just Kurt, more open and free than Burt could remember, and there was Blaine.

The kid was unfailingly polite, but with a gentle teasing nature that he and Kurt both appreciated. He was good to Kurt, patient, and heart-breakingly kind.

Then he was there, past 9 am on the lazy Sunday morning when Kurt was supposed to help with brunch, in Kurt's bed.Drunk. Drunk and in Kurt's bed. Something had happened that left Kurt annoyed, clearly at Blaine but taking it out on Burt, and yeah, maybe he deserved the dig about not knowing enough to have a gay sex talk with his gay kid, but he didn't think he deserved a confrontation in his own garage from the kid who wasn't quite but probably should be Kurt's boyfriend, no matter how nice he was to Kurt.

There was so much Blaine said, it made Burt's head spin. And there was plenty he didn't say that made Burt's heart ache. When he told Blaine that he had indeed been overstepping, he saw something shut down in the kid's eyes, and Burt moved closer, clapped a mostly clean hand gently on Blaine's shoulder, lightly enough to keep the grease off Blaine's coat but firmly enough that he felt Blaine stiffen and start to turn away at the touch.

"It's okay, kid. You just gave me the rest of the kick Kurt didn't deliver last week. You didn't do anything wrong."

Blaine just shook his head in silence, and muttered something unintelligible under his breath before turning to look at Burt. "Please don't tell Kurt I was here."

He sounded put down, in a way Burt didn't like to think about. Blaine was close to halfway across the garage, head tucked down like he was trying to hide. "Blaine," Burt called out, and he waited until the boy turned back to him, eyes dark with something hollow behind them. "Thank you, for caring about Kurt."

A tiny almost-smile tugged at the corner of Blaine's lips, and Burt watched him retreat into the office on his way to his car, a bare hint of lightness in his footsteps then.

Going to the free clinic was awkward, and dancing around Kurt in the kitchen was almost as bad. When he finally steered Kurt to the table and fanned the pamphlets in front of them both, his heart was hammering in his chest. Because none of those parenting books Elizabeth had read after Kurt was born told you what to do when it came time to have the gay sex talk with your gay son.

Instead, Burt thought of Blaine, brave in his defiance and strength, and the way he softened everything that had ever been tough and angular about Kurt. He kept telling himself that he was talking to Kurt about being with Blaine, even though neither of the boys realized it yet.

Because Burt might be awkward and he might be a little slow when it came to matters of his own heart, but he wasn't stupid, and he knew it was only a matter of time before those two got their acts together.

God help him.

Blaine had never set out to be the Warblers' star, but he wasn't going to apologize for his smashing success as lead soloist. It was an honor not usually bestowed on anyone other than a senior, but it was, oddly, something that got his father's approval. He knew it was part of the reason he had drawn Kurt's attention in the first place, and Blaine would never lie about loving the rush he got from performing, the way he didn't have to worry about being anything but his whole self when he was in front of a crowd singing away all of the stress and worry and imperfectness of his being.

Fronting the Warblers made him feel good and right, which was why Kurt's offhand comment about Blaine and the Pips stung so much, but Blaine didn't know what, if anything, he could do about it. Or if he even wanted to, really.

When the door to the Commons squeaked open on Tuesday afternoon and Kurt was there, strong and tall and defiantly out of uniform, and so incredibly beautifulthat he took Blaine's breath away, Blaine had no choice but to blink a handful of times in case he was imagining all of it.

The song. God, the song.

Kurt was singing for Pavarotti, yes, but Blaine felt like Kurt was singing for him, too, for the parts of him that he hid from everyone but that Kurt could see anyway. Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly; all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.

He couldn't say anything, couldn't sing when the other guys joined in. All he could do was sit and stare at Kurt like he'd never seen him before, and pretend that his insides weren't turning to jelly at the thought that had been dogging him all these months, that Kurt was the easiest and best thing in his life, and that he'd been nothing but a damn idiot for ignoring it so long.

He spent nearly half an hour pacing outside the common room where Kurt was working, craft box and hot glue gun and a tiny balsa-wood box spread on the heavy oak table. He'd worked for two days on his speech, to get it just so and just rightand eliminate any reasons Kurt might have for turning him down.

And as soon as he'd crossed the threashold, song title on his lips and a lump in his throat, he nearly forgot every word, because Kurt's hands, his amazing gentle hands were wielding hot glue and the tiniest of sequins, and the way he moved, so easy and secure in himself made Blaine want to fall apart from the aching.

He babbled when he got nervous, which had been the whole point of the prepared speech, but all he could remember were fragments of Candles and forever and move me. He couldn't think at all in the instant before he saw everything in Kurt's eyes that had been scared and resigned and hopeful and now something sparkly and oh, finally! It was like giving in and taking away, and Blaine was right there, his mouth on Kurt's and Kurt's handagainst his face, and it was everything and perfect and like he didn't need to pretend anything anymore.

When they'd pulled lightly apart, Blaine didn't even fight the blush in his cheeks or the sheepish grin on his face. He didn't even flinch at the smear of glue and the trio of silver jewels stuck to the side of his right hand. Instead, he laughed at Kurt's comment about practicing, and then he leaned in and met Kurt halfway that time.

Evenings, after Kurt had gone home to his bustling and busy house and Blaine was alone, he would think about the way Kurt's mouth felt against his, the way his hands would sometimes snake up and grip in Blaine's hair. He would replay the tiny moments, the tentative way Kurt would sometimes rest a hand on Blaine's hip, or the way it felt when they were a little too close, hands a little too wanting and bodies a little too desperate. The times they would pull apart like they'd been shocked, breath heavy and both of them with sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes and pink cheeks that had nothing to do with the relative coolness of Ohio springtime outside one of their cars.

On the afternoons when things were simply too much, when Blaine wanted to dig and dig at Kurt's layers and lay his own self bare for Kurt, they would settle for chaste hand-holding and coffee at the Lima Bean. Most of the time it was easy and light with the promise of a goodbye kiss to come, until the day it was everything but. Until the day Santana started asking about Karofsky and Kurt going back to McKinley, and Blaine knew from the way Kurt was simply vibrating with the idea of it for daysafterwards that it's going to happen. And sooner rather than anything else.

Blaine expected it to take weeks instead of days.

Days were too soon. Days didn't give him enough time to prepare for the drought of days at Dalton and stolen afternoons with Kurt, even less time than he'd already had.

Days weren't enough time to build his walls up again. Without Kurt to absorb him, all day every day, he was going to drown. Because nobody else was safethe way Kurt was.

The Warblers were kind, to go with him. He half suspected that Wes and David knew how badly he was hurting, and while he'd wanted it to be hisgoodbye to Kurt, he needed his friends with him that morning.

He didn't think he'd make it without crying, but he did. They clung to each other afterwards, until Kurt's friends were antsy around him and Wes was tugging at his sleeve, because they had to get back in time for 5th period. Blaine felt empty even with his friends, and he wondered if Kurt felt the same as he looked back at his boyfriend, proud and primping and so at home. He wondered if Kurt meant it, or was just putting on a good show.

He tried not to be hurt when Kurt didn't even look up to watch him leave.

Blaine had hoped he'd be able to just ignore that prom even existed, but he loved Kurt so much that he couldn't crush the want and excitement in his voice and on his face, so he'd agreed to go, and somehow ended up scrunched on the dusty tile floor of the hall outside of the gym trying to ease the terrible, terriblehurt that was pouring out of Kurt.

Blaine had never felt so useless, not even after the Sadie Hawkins dance, curled away and still on the cold sidewalk pretending to be unconscious and listening to the slap and thunk of boots against Eric's torso. Because Eric had been his friend, but Kurtheld his heart, and he needed to do more than pretend at self-preservation.

Blaine gestured at the floor next to him. "Would you at least sit down? Do you wanna go? We don't have to go back in there." He watched Kurt, pacing and twisting his hands. It was making Blaine nervous.

"Wasn't this prom supposed to be about redemption? About taking away that lump you had in your throat from running away? If we leave, all it's gonna do is give me a lump, too." Blaine's heart broke a little at the way Kurt was trying to soothe him; it didn't feel right, at all. Blaine knew that hewas supposed to be the caretaker in this scenario, but he didn't know how to do any of that.

"So what do you wanna do?" The metal of the lockers was cool through his tux jacket, and it gave him something outside of his burning skin and jumbled heart to focus on.

"I'm gonna go back in there and get coronated. I'm gonna show them that it doesn't matter if they are yelling at me or whispering behind my back, they can't touch me." Kurt knelt in front of him, looked him in the eye; it felt like he was sending Blaine every ounce of his tremendous strength."They can't touch us or what we have."

The Warblers had told Blaine that they thought he and Kurt were brave for taking on Prom at the school that had sent Kurt into exile for those dark months, and Blaine had told them it had next to nothing to do with bravery. But he hadn't understood what it really meant until he watched Kurt stride onto that stage and wear that stupid crown. Yes, Kurt was brave. But tackling your demons in a custom kilt was confidence and strength and passion and hope. It was about showing those unaware children that they couldn't break you.

Kurt knew it to his core. Blaine swallowed around a lump in his throat in the instant before Karofsky ran from the gym and realized that he'd better learn it fast. Because the music was cliche and on the edge of painful, but Blaine couldn't leave Kurt standing there alone. He stepped up, reached out a trembling hand to his beautiful boyfriend, and put himself out there.

It was scarier than their first kiss, than his first Hummel/Hudson Family Dinner. Harder than walking away from Kurt in the McKinley courtyard.

It felt like he was crossing a line within himself, away from the things he did because he should and towards the things he did because he wanted.He knew if he spoke too loudly he'd betray himself to the entire gym, but he only needed one person to hear him.

"May I have this dance?"