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

Blaine breathed out slowly through his mouth, staring at the punching bag as it wavered before settling. He was the only one left in the locker room, the thuds of his fist connecting with the fabric dull and hollow in the silence. Shaking himself once, raising his fists to punch again, he breathed in deeply, ready to strike.

"You know, I'm not one for sports, but you've got one hell of a swing," a voice chimed in softly.

Whirling around to face the newcomer, Blaine relaxed when he saw that it was just Marley, shaking his head slightly. "Not when it counts," he said dryly, peeling off the boxing gloves. "What brings you down here?"

"Sam told me you like to come practice here after school," Marley said, stepping across the room until she stood a few feet away. "You know. Let off some steam."

Blaine nodded slightly, prying his right glove off with his teeth before setting to work on the left. "He's right," he agreed, his voice slightly breathless from the exertion. "Why'd you come down?"

Marley shrugged, holding onto a paper bag with apparent unconcern. "I thought maybe you could give me some advice."

Blaine laughed helplessly, trying to picture sweet little Marley attacking a punching bag and failing. "Boxing isn't really for everyone," he said delicately. "It's more of a ..." he waved a hand, searching for the word; she watched patiently, not offering her assistance. "A shot of stress relief," he finished. "There's other options. I've heard Yoga works pretty well."

"I'm not that coordinated," she admitted. Then: "I wasn't talking about stress relief, though."

"Oh." Blaine shrugged, continuing to unravel the cloth wrapped around his hands, sparing an absentminded glance at the clock on the wall. 6:57 PM. "What do you need?"

"Do you know how to tell someone," she began, ambling close enough that she could have reached out and punched the bag he'd been hammering moments before if she wanted to, "that they're working way too hard without offending them?"

Blaine paused, momentarily wrong-footed by the question. "You think I'm working too hard?"

Marley shrugged, one hand keeping a firm grip on the paper bag as she reached over to nudge the punching bag. "Sam thinks that four hours a day six days a week is a lot of boxing practice for someone that doesn't even compete in the rings," she said gently.

"Maybe I do," Blaine retorted, stuffing his gloves into his bag.

"Really? When's your next competition?"

Blaine opened his mouth to say something, halted, then said, "Next month."

"It's not."

Grunting, Blaine heaved the bag onto his shoulder. "Is that all you came to say?"

Marley sighed, sitting down on the bench and looking up at him imploringly. "Look, B. We all know that you're stressing out about the fact that Kurt's gone, but this isn't the way to handle it."

"I'm handling it," Blaine said, unable to keep the slightly sharp note out of his voice. "Isn't that what matters?"

"What matters is that you're still okay at the end of the day," Marley corrected. "Which, considering the fact that I could throw you over my shoulder, isn't true."

"You could not," Blaine huffed, looking down at his stomach once involuntarily before turning his back to riffle through his locker.

Marley lifted an eyebrow and said nothing.

He sighed, turning back to her and holding his hands out invitingly. "What do you want me to do? Break down sobbing in the middle of the hallway because my boyfriend is off in another state and I still have nine months to go before I can join him?"

Marley stood up, grabbing one of his outstretched hands and squeezing it gently. "I want you to stop joining clubs," she said softly. "I want you to stop spending time down here when it just gives you even more time to think about it." Another light squeeze. "And most importantly, I want you to join me for dinner." She placed the paper bag in his other hand, stepping back and folding her arms.

Blaine blinked, surprised. "Why?"

"Because you were nice to me," she said simply. "When it counted."

"I - " Blaine swallowed, guilt tinging his cheeks pink as he looked down. "I didn't stop them. From ... insulting your mother." He cringed a little, setting the bag aside. "I can't accept this."

"You can, and you will, or you'll be insulting her even more," Marley chided seriously. She stepped forward so she could grab his shoulders, giving him a light shake. "Hey. Look at me." He lifted his gaze reluctantly to meet hers. "I won't pretend that I know the half of it, but I get that you're not exactly going to stick your neck out here for someone you barely know."

"So you're saying that I'm a coward," Blaine said, the flat tone to his voice overshadowing the hurt.

"I'm saying," Marley huffed, giving him another light shake, "that you need to get over it. She has. And I ... I guess I have, too. Because I can see that that's not you. You're not the ass that insults strangers. You were the one that came to me that first day - do you even remember that?"

Blaine nodded slightly, recalling how he had left the cafeteria shortly after the jocks had dished their insults, sitting in the choir room until his next class had begun and meeting Marley after school with a brief, apologetic, "I shouldn't have done that."

"You shouldn't," was all she had said, turning her back on him and leaving.

Since then, things had been different. They had been closer, to the point of exchanging numbers and even spending time together at mutual friends' houses. They weren't quite open to the point that Blaine knew more about her than she knew about him, but there was something fun to it, the mystery and lightness. Having Marley come down here that day was like a cold shock, an intrusion into their bubble of unreality that seemed too sharp to behold, too real. This was who they were, one tiny layer of their existence.

"I didn't think it made a difference," Blaine admitted quietly.

"It didn't," Marley agreed, "at the time. But ... thinking it over, it took guts. And I appreciated the gesture from someone that I didn't think was capable of much more than sitting in a corner and letting the others speak for him. It showed me that you weren't that kind of guy, and ... it made a difference."

Blaine relaxed involuntarily, surprised to find his muscles trembling slightly. "Why did you come down here?" he asked softly, looking her in the eye.

Marley picked up the paper bag and pressed it into his hand; he accepted it without a word. "Because you need someone, and I'm here."

"Sam or Artie could have come," he pointed out, keeping his voice level. "Tina, too."

"Sam thought it would be better if I took this one," she said simply. Blaine stiffened a little at that, his fingers tightening around the paper underneath his fingers. "Don't be like that," she chided gently. "You're the leader. They really respect you. Hell, I'm starting to respect you. We all think that you'll be fine on your own, until one day we just ..." She waved a hand airily, gesturing between the two of them, "open our eyes and see that maybe it's time to lend a hand." She nudged the bag in his hand. "That's step one. Step two is you come home with me, because we've known each other for five weeks and I still haven't introduced you to Alex."

Blaine tilted his head slightly to one side even as he pulled the bag closer to himself. "Who's Alex?"

Marley shrugged, turning to walk towards the door. "Guess you'll just have to come to find out, won't you?"

Blaine shook his head, debating the merits of simply turning around and showering before heading back to his own empty place - and deciding that an invitation like that was simply more appealing.

It turned out that Alex was a one hundred and thirty pound Newfoundland that promptly bowled him over in the doorway. Blaine hadn't laughed so hard since Kurt left as the dog proceeded to lick his face, Marley apologizing and laughing in equal parts above him.

It wasn't perfect - it certainly wasn't like eating with Kurt, regardless of how affectionate the banter between Marley and her mom was - but his belly was full and his mind was off Kurt and it was okay.

For once, it seemed, everything was okay.

Author's Notes: Can I just say that I love Marley already?

Another one-shot inspired by the episode.

This one takes place several months after Kurt has left for New York. Blaine has been joining extra-curriculars and spending a lot of his free time boxing, so Marley intervenes.

Hope you enjoyed!