AN: I realize that it's been ages, but I'm back now, and I come prepared with an outline of all the remaining chapters. Thanks to everyone who's stuck with me thus far. It means a lot.

Chapter 21

Yellow Brick Road

Kurt dreams that he's in a garden full of jasmine. The white flower petals are so bright that they glow, even in the sunlight. It's ethereal and at the same time earthy; as he walks his boots leave prints in the dark, rich soil.

There's something off about the scent that encases him. It's potent and sickeningly sweet, a scent bordering on rotten. Nothing looks dead, though. Everything is alive and fresh, almost impossibly so.

Maybe the rot is coming from him.

He checks himself. He holds his hands out in front of him and they're still his hands, pale and soft and mildly transparent.

No, that's not it either.

Where is it coming from? Everything looks normal. It's just the smell that's getting to him, that's all it is.

He breathes deeply, in and out, telling himself to relax, that's there's nothing wrong, that there's absolutely nothing unsettling about this place that he's found himself in.

The longer he spends trying to convincing himself that everything is ok in this eerie place where nothing moves except him, the more he knows in his gut that something is terribly wrong.

The jasmine illuminates as though the sun is an oversized black light, but nothing about Kurt is particularly noteworthy. He's not affected by the way the sun strikes the earth around him.

He reaches out to pluck one of the blossoms but instead of catching the silky looking petals in his hand, the flower crumbles, melts into sand that glides, unfeeling, through his waiting fingers.

It's stupid. It's only a flower. It's not him.

If only he could do something about that awful smell.

Each breath he takes, each lungful of that overwhelming scent feels more foreign inside his body, outside his body.

What is he supposed to do, stop breathing? It's everywhere.

He sucks it in regardless, because he's trapped, because he has no choice, because he can't stop breathing.

Then everything around him starts to squish together.

There's all this pressure surrounding him, crushing his clothes against himself, locking his arms and legs, and although it's unsettling, it doesn't necessarily hurt. The force of it is both sudden and unsurprising, like part of him had been waiting for this and he hadn't realized it.

He allows himself to relax into the touch, into this invisible squeezing.

He thinks, this living place smells like death.

This place isn't as unbearable as he thought, not with this force field around him, enclosing him, holding him tight.

He wishes he could see who it is, or what it is, or how many whos or whats have combined to keep him steady.

He opens his mouth to ask, to greet the thing inside the garden.

Words don't come out. Instead, he sings a short melody, something lonely and forgettable that drops like lead through the stillness.

From his right comes the gentle crescendo of a piano arpeggio and the world gets fuzzy until he opens his eyes in his bedroom, squinting at the light that always manages to slip between his curtains, no matter how tightly he closes them.

Adele's wonderfully raspy, emotion-laden voice sings out,

I've been walking in the same way as I did

And missing out the cracks in the pavement

And tutting my heel and strutting my feet

"Is there anything I can do for you dear?

Is there anyone I could call?

No, and thank you, please madam,

I ain't lost, just wandering"

It's the first day of the last rehearsals for glee. Nationals are in nine days. It's truly the start of the inevitable end of glee and high school and Lima and the few things that are constants in his life.

Round my hometown, memories are fresh

Round my hometown, ooh, the people I've met

Are the wonders of my world, are the wonders of my world

Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders and now
I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque

I love it to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades

I like it in the city when two worlds collide

You get the people and the government

Everybody taking different sides

You spend your whole life getting used to this place. How quickly you leave it all behind. Shit, he thinks, closing his eyes again.

Shows that we ain't gonna stand shit

Shows that we are united

Shows that we ain't gonna take it

Shows that we ain't gonna—

He slaps around his bedside table until he hits his alarm clock and Adele finally shuts up.

Blaine doesn't surprise him by showing up at his locker. They don't share any classes and Blaine eats lunch with the jocks, so Kurt doesn't really get a good look at Blaine until Glee.

Mr. Shue claps his hands at 3:00 on the dot.

"Nationals!" he cheers with a maniacal grin.

There is a mostly enthusiastic response. Artie raises the roof with Sam. Santana and Brittany lock pinkies. Finn and Puck high-five. Rachel peers around the room for someone to share her giddiness with while Finn is preoccupied. Mercedes turns around and studies Kurt in his back corner, making sure he's alright when he doesn't share his friends' excitement. He smiles at her as best as he can.

It's going to be over so soon.

And it's not like he'll get a solo.

"Settle down everyone," Mr. Shue says, unwilling to settle down himself, his smile unwavering in its borderline creepiness. He erases "Prom" from the whiteboard. (And couldn't he have done that last week? How hard is it to erase one word?) "It's time to make song selections for our set list. We don't want a repeat of last year."

Everyone murmurs to each other as Finn cringes and Rachel crosses then re-crosses her legs.

Blaine looks back at Kurt from his seat in the front row. Blaine wasn't at Nationals with them, of course, but he heard all about it. This is Blaine sharing the memory with Kurt. This is him telling someone that he knows what happened, even if he didn't see it. (It's a bittersweet memory because Kurt remembers what happened after he told Blaine about Nationals, and it's a confident "I love you" from Blaine over iced coffee, followed by a surprised and embarrassingly hesitant "I love you too.") Blaine offers a pained smile, the type of smile you give because you know you should, even if you don't want to. Kurt holds up his hand and curls his fingers in a subtle wave.

The moment breaks. Blaine faces forward and no one is the wiser.

Mr. Shue carries on about Nationals and song selection and dancing, eventually pausing enough to ask them to write down their top two choices on a piece of notebook paper. They're taking it to a vote. What else is new.

"Our theme this year," Mr. Shue says over the snapping of three-ring binders and tearing of paper, "is 'beginnings', for those of you who are about to start a brand new life after high school."

"How original," Kurt mutters.

As Mr. Shue rambles on about the 'changing seasons' of their lives and the mature young adults they have become, Kurt thumps his pencil on his paper. They're supposed to sing about where they envision themselves in the future, about the path that they're leaving behind and the new one they're going to start.

He wonders: is this supposed to be a happy assignment?

Rachel has plenty of ideas and starts scribbling away.

"I said your top two choices, Rachel," Mr. Shue says when he catching her filling up her paper.

Finn doesn't write. Neither does Puck. Sam jots something down then crosses it out.

At least Kurt's not alone.

They get five minutes. Are they seriously expected to have a song waiting at their disposal that will conclude their entire high school experience?

Kurt has a song in mind, but it's not quite right. Not when he's supposed to be excited and brave and ready.

He could go with the obvious. "Graduation" by Vitamin C, "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson, Lee Ann Womack's "I hope you Dance."

He doesn't want any of those. They're songs about overcoming the obstacles and he doesn't feel much like overcoming anything at the moment.

Mr. Shue calls time, and everyone passes their papers forward. He shuffles through their song choices as a murmur starts around the room, escalating quickly into full on conversations. People start discussing what they did over the weekend. Rachel doesn't chime in. Neither does Kurt.

"Guys—" Mr. Shue yells over the cacophony. "Some of these are blank."

"Maybe we don't all feel like celebrating," Puck says.

"Dude," Finn says as the room grows quiet. "What?"

The glee boys all eye Puck with equal parts sympathy and pity. They don't even need Puck to answer.

He does anyway. "Look, I don't know for sure. It just doesn't feel like much of a celebration, OK?"

"Puck, what are you talking about?" Mr. Shue, always the pacific. Always one step behind.

Puck bares his teeth. "Nothing."

"Puck, you sure you're OK?" Mr. Shue asks anyway.

Finn cuts in before Puck has the chance to let loose whatever expletives are waiting on his tongue. "He said he doesn't want to talk about it," Finn says softly, with a note of finality, but it doesn't stop him from looking at Puck with disappointment. Finn's a pacific too, always has been, but for all of his slow-wittedness, at times he has an uncanny ability to know what people are thinking, and when to push, and when to stop. Now is time to stop.

Finn stands. "Mr. Shue, can I sing? I've got a song, and I didn't write anything down, but as co-captain—" he shoots Rachel one of his infamous crooked smiles (Rachel bounces with giddiness)— "as co-captain, shouldn't we perform our songs? Instead of like, making lists?"

Rachel jumps up. "That's a great idea! Then we'll get to hear everyone's top choice and we'll get to hear everyone solo, so we can determine who the solos go to in the group number."

Mercedes chants "No no no" with indignation, while Santana presses a hand to her heart.

"Excuse me, Gonzo?" Santana says. "What makes you think that I'd be trying out for a solo in the group number?"

Mercedes nods at Santana and gives her a low-five.

"I just think that the solos should go to the people who are going into the performing arts, so that they can get more practice singing in front of large groups of people under pressure—"

That could potentially work to Kurt's benefit, it Rachel wasn't twisting it to make it about her.

"Rachel, I'm sorry you blew your audition, but not everything is about you." Finn picks up the drumsticks waiting by the (for once, vacant) drum kit.

He shoots a small, sad smile at Puck before starting the song off with a few measures of drum fills.

Run and tell all of the angels, this could take all night
Think I need a devil to help me get things right
Hook me up a new revolution 'cause this one is a lie
We sat around laughin' and watched the last one die

Yeah, I'm lookin' to the sky to save me
Lookin' for a sign of life
Lookin' for something to help me burn out bright
I'm lookin' for a complication
Lookin' 'cause I'm tired of lyin'
Make my way back home when I learn to fly high

I think I'm dyin' nursing patience
It can wait one night
I'd give it all away if you give me one last try
We'll live happily ever trapped if you just save my life
Run and tell the angels that everything's alright

I'm lookin' to the sky to save me
Lookin' for a sign of life
Lookin' for somethin' to help me burn out bright
I'm lookin' for a complication
Lookin' 'cause I'm tired of tryin'
Make my way back home when I learn to fly high
Make my way back home when I learn to…

Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone
Try to make this life my own
Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone
Try to make this life my own

Puck remains unmoved.

"Wow, that was great Finn! Who's up next?" Mr. Shue asks.

Rachel bounds to the forefront.

I will remember you

Will you remember me?

Don't let your life

Pass you by

Weep not for the memories…

"So fricken' sappy," Santana drawls once Rachel is done. (That summarizes Kurt's feelings pretty exactly).

"Santana, maybe you'd like to go next?" Mr. Shue prompts.

She shakes her head with a smirk. "I didn't write down a song."

"That's not true," Brittany chimes in. "I saw you. You wrote that one about birds."

Santana squints at her. "Britt, what?"

"Yeah, and wind."

Santana shakes her head. Mr. Shue flips through his papers. "Wind Beneath my Wings?"

Talk about sappy songs. Honestly.

The class howls.

"Now wait a minute," Santana says, laughing humorlessly and holding up a hand to silence everyone. "Those were anonymous."

Mr. Shue gestures earnestly at Brittany.

"Tana, you should sing it," Brittany mock-whispers.

"This is ridiculous. I'm not singing that song."

Brittany raises her hand high. "Mr. Shue, I'll sing mine!"

Mr. Shue waves her to the front.

Brittany sings "Goodbye" by the Spice Girls (except it's Spice Girls sans Ginger, which doesn't really count in Kurt's opinion).

No no no no
No no no no
No no no no

Now listen little child, there will come a day
When you will be able, able to say
Never mind the pain, or the aggravation
You know there's a better way for you and me to be
Look for the rainbow in every storm
Fly like an angel, heaven sent to me

Goodbye my friend
I know you're gone, you said you're gone
But I can still feel you here
It's not the end
Gotta keep it strong
Before the pain turns into fear

So glad we made it
Time will never change it, no no no
No no no no

Just a little girl, big imagination
Never letting no one (take it away)
Went into the world (into the world)
What a revelation
She found there's a better way
For you and me to be
Look for the rainbow in every storm
Find out for certain loves gonna be there for you
You'll always be someone's baby

Kurt loves his Spice Girls, but in terms of overly sentimental Spice Girls songs, this is probably number one on his list. Still, because Brittany is endearing and the song came out of her mouth, it has the desired, sobering effect.

Santana doesn't even comment on the fact that it's Spice Girls.

No one feels much like singing after that, especially after Santana has been silenced. It takes some of the normalcy away.

They let out a half hour later, and it appears that there had been some ploy to get Kurt and Blaine alone, because everyone takes off like gunfire when Mr. Shue gives the go-ahead.

It doesn't go unnoticed.

"Today was awfully unproductive considering Nationals is in a week and a half," Blaine starts, pseudo-casually as Kurt descends from the steps behind him.

Kurt shrugs. "We're not Warblers."

"No," Blaine says. "I guess you're not." He exhales. "So, what song did you pick?" He's trying so hard to be normal.

"I didn't. I wasn't exactly inspired by the theme."

Blaine shoots him a doubtful look.

Kurt hoists up his messenger bag and clings to the strap. "How're you doing?" he asks softly.

Blaine forces a smile. "Pretty uh, pretty terrible."

"Me too."

"Then why did you do it?" Blaine demands, full of indignation.

"Because everything is changing and I have no idea what's going to happen in the next year or even the next month. I don't know where I'm going to be, or if I'll make friends there, or if I'll be a total, talentless joke, which seems likely more often than not. And thinking about us, and not knowing if we'd be OK or not just made everything so much worse."

"So nice to hear that you had faith in us," Blaine says sarcastically.

"We haven't been OK, not for a while."

"You could've talked to me."

"I tried. But I didn't know what else to say to make it better. I'm sorry that you don't like me talking about going away, but it's a big deal and we're supposed to be able to talk about these things."

"It's a big deal to me too, Kurt."

Kurt swallows past the lump in his throat and tightens his grip on his bag. "But you're the one that gets to stay."

Blaine studies his face with wide, heartbreaking eyes. "Kurt… I don't know why there's any doubt in your mind that New York is going to love you."

Kurt sees the text from Dave once he's home from Glee. Finn got a ride with Rachel and who knows where Sam went (probably over to Artie's) so Kurt's alone once again.

Dave's text is a simple Whats up?

Kurt writes back Glee, because he doesn't feel like explaining.

Dave calls him. When Kurt answers, Dave says, "Do I want to ask what happened?" because he knows that Glee harbors some crazies.

"It's Nationals."

"Oh," Dave says. "Wait, isn't that a good thing?"

"Yes. No. Of course it is."

Dave waits.

"We're picking songs about graduation. And everyone has these songs that are inspirational or sentimental."

"Yeah, so what's yours?"

"Not inspirational."


Kurt sighs. Then he starts to sing.

When are you gonna come down
When are you going to land
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

You know you can't hold me forever
I didn't sign up with you
I'm not a present for your friends to open
This boy's too young to be singing the blues

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I've finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

What do you think you'll do then
I bet that'll shoot down your plane
It'll take you a couple of vodka and tonics
To set you on your feet again

Maybe you'll get a replacement
There's plenty like me to be found
Mongrels who ain't got a penny
Sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plough

When the song ends, Dave's angry. "That sounds an awful lot like you giving up."

"I know how to deal with small-town close-mindedness. I don't know how to face big-city rejection."

"Then you'll learn. Isn't that the point?"

Blaine volunteers to sing first in Glee the following day. Stripped of his usual Top 40's, Blaine croons some Billy Joel.

Slow down you crazy child
You're so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you're so smart tell me,
Why are you still so afraid? (mmmmm)

Blaine avoids looking at Kurt or anywhere in his direction, but Kurt knows the song is for him.

Where's the fire, what's the hurry about?
You better cool it off before you burn it out
You got so much to do and only
So many hours in a day (Ay)

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through (Oooh)
When will you realize... Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you're doing fine
You can't be everything you want to be before your time
Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)

He finally makes eye contact and Blaine's earnestness is everything that Kurt's afraid of.

Too bad, but it's the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
You know you can't always see when you're right (you're right)

You got your passion, you got your pride

Blaine smiles despite himself, before continuing:

But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true (Oooh)
When will you realize... Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you crazy child
Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
It's alright, you can afford to lose a day or two (oooh)
When will you realize... Vienna waits for you?

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through (oooh)
Why don't you realize... Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize... Vienna waits for you?

Kurt ignores the implication that Blaine might be the one who's waiting, and he fixates on New York, and how it's not going anywhere, and how New York doesn't even know that Kurt Hummel exists anywhere, let alone in Lima, Ohio.

Kurt is young and he's still got time. He knows that. But why should he put off something that he wants, even if he's scared shitless?

When does fear become a legitimate excuse for delaying your dreams?

Author's Note The Second: Songs in order, are: "Hometown Glory" by Adele, "Learn to Fly" by The Foo Fighters, "Goodbye" by The Spice Girls, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John and "Vienna" by Billy Joel.