AN: Just a short bit inspired by something I noticed about how... iconic one of the elements of this story is for a certain character, even though it hasn't applied to that character for an entire season.
Yes, that's confusing, on purpose. You should understand better once you finish.
Kurt got the invitation about two and a half weeks after Dave Karofsky got out of the hospital. "I would've done this a lot sooner," Dave had written in the e-mail, "but Dad didn't feel like leaving me alone for even a second for some weird reason." Kurt had chosen to see the gallows humor as a good thing.
The day: Sunday. The time: noon. The place: a secluded area on the edges of town known as a popular hiking and picnicking spot during the warmer months. In the dying days of winter, it would be deserted, which was exactly what Dave wanted and needed. "Don't need the cops interrupting," his e-mail said.
Kurt told no one (with one exception) where he was going or who he was meeting. Even with the sympathy towards Dave from his friends (and even from his father, though there was still a strong lingering current of suspicion and anger that Kurt suspected would never fully go away), he knew they wouldn't understand, and burden him with a lot of unnecessary concern and overreaction. Of course, he knew this because of previous experience; he could imagine the reactions as if they were happening right in front of him. Rachel would babble in her own Berry way (whether supportive of him or not would frankly be a coin flip), Mercedes would rant, Mike would ask reasonable-sounding but pointed questions in something approaching an interrogation, and Finn would stare at him as if he were considering chaining Kurt into his room for his own safety.
Even the exception to his silence, his boyfriend, had his own completely predictable reaction. Kurt sat Blaine down and told him exactly what he and Dave planned and why he felt it was important to accept the invitation. Blaine, of course, listened carefully and respectfully. And when Kurt finally finished, Blaine asked, "Do you need to borrow some Mace?" in a joking-yet-kind-of-serious tone. A rational discussion followed in which Blaine voiced perfectly reasonable objections and less reasonable (in Kurt's opinion, as understandable as they might've been) worries. Kurt simply repeated his case firmly and calmly: Dave was his friend now, this was an important step in his life symbolically, this would be some small measure of closure for them both, and many more. In the end, they both knew what was going to happen: Kurt was going to do what he thought was right, come hell or high water. So Blaine held Kurt's hands tightly and said, "Just be careful, okay?"
Kurt had felt like rolling his eyes and saying something along the lines of "David just got out of the hospital after a suicide attempt. I don't think he's exactly in the 'get Kurt Hummel alone and ravish him against his will' frame of mind." He didn't, for a simple reason: Kurt himself was a little worried, despite his own words and beliefs. However, unlike Blaine, his fear was what he could do to Dave, not the other way around. Despite Dave's insistence that his therapy sessions were helping, and that the medication was showing promise, there was still that nagging doubt. What if Valentine's Day repeated itself? What if Kurt was forced to break Dave's heart again? Could Dave take that kind of strain at this vulnerable point in his life? Naturally, Dave had bent over backwards to make assurances that he was safe to be around (not in so many words, but the effect was the same), but Kurt knew emotions could be fickle, volatile forces that could erupt despite best intentions and efforts. Nevertheless, once again the outcome was in no doubt. He'd made a promise to Dave to be a friend, so he'd have to face this concern sooner or later. What better time than now?
Still, it was with a little trepidation that Kurt arrived at the meeting spot. It was precisely twelve o'clock; Kurt believed in punctuality. Dave was already there, hefting a barbecue grill, its red paint faded and mottled with rust, out of the bed of his truck. The way Dave's face brightened when he saw Kurt made the latter wince a little, his worries flaring up even hotter. It was only with some effort that Kurt managed to smile and wave back (in a friendly way) as he got out of his car.
"Thanks for coming!" Dave called out as he carried the grill and carefully placed it in the middle of the open field, in a spot where the grass was worn down to bare dirt. Although it was cold, it somehow hadn't snowed for at least a week, leaving the ground dry. "It wouldn't have felt right to do this without you."
"We Hummels stick to our commitments," Kurt said as he approached the grill and peeked inside. It had certainly seen better days; the metal nearly worn through in some areas.
"Oh, is that all I am? A commitment, an obligation?" Dave's voice was lighthearted and teasing, but Kurt's head snapped up regardless. Dave was grinning, a genuine grin as far as he could tell, but was he being paranoid, or could he see the slightest tiniest streak of worry in Dave's eyes, the smallest hint of fear?
Whether paranoia or not, he had to put a stop to that. "Not at all," Kurt replied in a tone similar to Dave's. "I think we could be good friends if we gave each other the chance. Besides, I've always wanted to make over a hopeless fashion case."
Dave barked with laughter as he drew a pair of items out of the cab of the truck: a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid and a shapeless bundle that Kurt recognized at once. "Well, maybe this is the first step to that, then. Hey, do you mind clearing out the branches and stuff around the grill? Just make sure there's nothing on the ground for a few feet; don't want to start a fire."
Kurt nodded, kicking at the debris on the ground with his feet. "Very ecologically observant of you, Dave."
"Hey, I was a Cub Scout, remember?" Dave tossed the items in his hands to the ground at the foot of the grill and joined in the clearing efforts. Soon the grill was the center of a mostly dirt circle. Dave nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Let's get started." He picked up the bundle. For a moment, he stared at the shapeless mass in his hands and swallowed. "I didn't get one at Thurston, you know," he said quietly. "It just didn't feel right, after..." He fell silent; Kurt waited patiently as Dave became lost in his memories or fears or whatever was going through his mind. "I don't even know why I kept this." He looked up pleadingly at Kurt, as if begging to believe him. "You'd think this would be a reminder of happier times, but..."
"But you were never happy then," Kurt finished.
"Yeah. I mean, what I was going through was nothing compared to what I put you through..."
Kurt glared. "We've talked about this, Dave. Do not finish that sentence."
"Fine. But still, this... thing..." He stared down at the bundle in something akin to disgust. "I remember when I first got it. I was so goddamn happy. I never got one for hockey, y'know. I didn't know why I was so thrilled; it was actually a little silly, how high I was. But I guess it was because..."
"You thought you'd get to hide." Kurt blinked, startled that he was able to finish another of Dave's sentences. Then he remembered: he'd had his own little period of hiding, of hideous caps and dull clothes, hadn't he?
Dave nodded, biting his lip as he did so. "I thought that this was my ticket into being popular. Being... normal. That everyone would just see this and not... me." Dave swallowed, so loudly even Kurt could hear it. "I found it in the back of my closet not long after I came home. I was a little afraid of even touching it. I think I was scared that if I held it, I'd put it on, and then I'd turn back into 'Karofsky' and this sounds really weird and lame, doesn't it?" His voice trailed off near the end, becoming sheepish and embarrassed.
Kurt shook his head. "Not at all. We all have our bugaboos and traumas. I'm not going to tell you how to deal with yours."
"I dunno... Just looking at this makes me remember all kinds of things... It makes me wanna throw up." Kurt didn't say that he felt the same, but as his and Dave's eyes met, he could see immediately that the other boy knew... and understood. "That's why I asked you here. Because I don't want to be the guy this thing represents anymore. I don't want to hide behind shit like this anymore. I've seen what I do and what happens when I try. And, well... Since you were just as affected by this as I was, maybe more... I figured you should be here."
"You were right. I'm glad I'm here. I think it's important, symbolically, and I'm happy to help you take that step."
"Not to mention that you're probably happy to see Karofsky die." His eyes widened as he saw Kurt turn pale; his lips struggled to take the words back. "No no! Not me! I mean... that part of me. That... asshole I turned myself into. On purpose." Dave shook his head. "Shit, I never thought of it that way before. That's even worse than just being an asshole, isn't it? Oh, God..."
"Dave. Look at me." He waited for the other to obey. "I'm here."
Dave raised an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah, you are. Unless this is the weirdest and most realistic dream I've ever had in my life..."
"Exactly. Do you really think I'd be here if I thought you were still that asshole?"
"Well, I dunno," Dave replied with a smirk. "You always were kinda stupidly brave. You chased a bully twice your size into a locker room and dared him to hit you..." He choked a little on his own breath. "Uh... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned..."
"It's okay." Kurt was lying at that moment, just the tiniest bit. It wasn't a pleasant reminder by any means (although even then, he'd been much more stunned than disgusted - or anything else, for that matter), but it wasn't exactly like the event gave him screaming nightmares... It was what happened afterward that did that. But then, they were both trying to move on from that to some extent, weren't they? "Like I said, I'm here, and I'd appreciate it if you trusted my judgment a little more."
Dave finally heaved a heavy sigh. "Okay." Casting one last look at the bundle in his hands, he dropped it into the barbecue grill, spreading it out carefully. Silently, he picked up the bottle of starter fluid, opened it, and started streaming it all over the grill's contents. "It's weird... I know what I want to do... have to do... but I'm still nervous."
"The truth may be better than lies, but it's usually harder," Kurt replied.
Dave didn't answer that. Instead, he capped the bottle of fluid and took it back to his truck. He returned holding a box of matches. He opened it, took one out, and was about to strike when his face jerked towards Kurt, as if a thought had suddenly come to him. "You should do this." He held out the box towards him.
"No, this should be your moment."
"But you bore most of my bullshit; you deserve..."
"You're the one who needs to move forward the most. You need..." Their words stumbled over and around each other. They stopped speaking simultaneously, each with a chuckle. "Okay, how about this," Kurt said. "We do it together."
Dave broke out in a grin. "I can go with that." He struck his match, the flame flaring to life in an instant. He handed the rest of the box to Kurt, who took out one of his own and lit it. "Ready?"
In the next moment, both teenagers tossed their matches into the grill. Kurt's landed on one of the white sleeves, which immediately danced with oddly cheerful flame. Dave's bounced off the large black "M" and disappeared into the depths of the grill, but it had done its job; first the "M", then the surrounding red cloth, was alight in flickering oranges and hints of blues. The fire spread and fed, devouring everything, charring the metal snaps and elastic hems. Kurt and Dave stepped back as the heat intensified.
Kurt coughed. "Um... That's a little more smoke than I was expecting."
"Why do you think I had to do this all the way out here?"
"You, er... do have a fire extinguisher, just in case?"
"In the truck. Cub Scout?"
"Right." Kurt fell quiet, watching the mass of cloth blacken and burn, collapsing in on itself as the flames consumed it. "There it goes."
"Yeah. Good fucking riddance."
"Can't say I disagree."
Silence, except the crackling of the fire.
"I'm not going to clean up the ashes."
Dave chuckled. "Don't worry, Kurt, you won't have to get your pretty little hands dirty. I have a shovel and everything."
"My, you really are prepared."
"I had two and a half weeks to think about it."
"And after this..." Kurt turned towards his friend. "Lunch?"
"Hell, yes. I'm fucking starving."
"That barbecue place on Fifth?"
"You read my mind."
"Good. I can get some chicken I can eat with a knife and fork, you can get your ribs..."
"I promise not to get sauce all over everything."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Karofsky. Anyway, after we're done, we can start discussing that disaster area you call your wardrobe."
"Can't wait." The tone was sarcastic, but somehow, the slightest hint of sincerity shone through like light through a keyhole.
The final silence came over the two then. They watched, hands in pockets and breath misting the winter air, as the last of a painful element of the past turned into so much brittle ash and soot.