AN: My first publishing foray into Glee fanfic. Hope you all enjoy :-)

AN2: During Sunshine's audition in episode 2x01 'Audition', I noticed that Kurt and Will were sitting together, a little ways apart from the rest of the group, and this struck me as off for both their characters. This is my explanation, because I can't help hurting Kurt. Bad me.

Warning: There's some ugly, homophobic language in here, because really, what self-respecting bully opts for politeness? If that disturbs you, just click that little 'back' arrow up there.

Disclaimer: I can only wish. SO SO not mine.


In hindsight, Kurt knew he should have wiped the smile from his face as he walked from his Gr.12 French class, a happy bounce to his step. They'd bumped him up a grade two years ago, and he was now reaping the benefits. The new teacher actually came from France!

Well, not quite. She came from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, as she had explained, so her accent was different from that of the France-French, but it wasn't like anyone in the States, never mind Lima, would be able to place anyone by their accent, except a fellow American.

But she was a native French-speaker with a beautiful accent, and it might only be the first week of school, but Kurt was lapping it up. He'd stayed behind to talk to her, in French of course, and she had complimented him on his mastery of the language, last year's Cheerios solo at Nationals, and liked two of his ideas on how to delve further into the French culture, whilst telling him a bit about how it differed from the French-Swiss culture, which he had found fascinating.

Glee seemed to be going really well, despite Rachel's little diva-fit, his classes seemed interesting, and he hadn't gotten tossed in the dumpster yet today. All-in-all, even counting the slushie this morning, this counted as an excellent day.

He was flying high, strutting proudly in his new Ferragamo boots, and excited to hear Sunshine sing, and maybe see Rachel get just a little slice of humble pie, because she had seriously screwed up.

He should have known it was far too good to last.

The non-stop bullying that had dogged his footsteps since day one of Kindergarten waxed and waned in intensity, cruelty, and intention, depending on the success of the sports team (a losing team meant a ramp-up in abuse), the happiness of the perpetrators (when Puck's Dad had left in middle school, things had gotten really bad), and the availability of the newest video games (new video games or movies in the store meant less time spent making his life miserable). But ever since the Lady Gaga week last year, it had ramped up again, and it seemed the summer break had not been enough to cool things down, if the first week back was anything to go by. Kurt had thanked his lucky stars for the over-work his Dad had been facing, allowing him the opportunity to hide the traces of anti-gay fervour that had regularly shown up at their home.

He'd barely taken three steps when Azimio's and Karofsky's hulking forms suddenly shadowed him, blocking his path.

Kurt stopped and pasted a long-suffering, haughty look on his face. A little different from his usual Ice Queen façade, as Mercedes and Tina had dubbed it, but still fairly effective, at least when it came to most people.

Then again, those two butterballs of hatred and intolerance had never been most people. Kurt could never understand how a short, skinny little guy like him posed any sort of threat to either of them, especially when they cornered him together.

"Fag" Karofsky sneered.

"Homo" Azimio added.

"How original of you" Kurt said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "It seems you've finally put those summer months to good use, and come up with a whole new arsenal of witty taunts and cruel insults. Congratulations." He tried to step quickly around their combined bulk, but they were just too large.

"What's this? You insulting us, fairy-boy?" Karofsky asked, glancing at his friend as they started the tag-teaming game they so enjoyed, playing off each other's insults and stupidity.

"I think he is" Azimio nodded. "And that's just not acceptable."

"Not at all" Karofsky agreed. "Seems we're going to have to teach him another lesson."

Kurt's stomach clenched painfully, remembering all-too well the last lesson. His ribs had ached for nearly a month, so adversely affecting his singing voice and ability to belt out those notes that half the Glee club had asked what was wrong. When he had glared pointedly at Finn, the taller boy had guiltily averted his gaze, and Kurt hadn't tried again. He should have known better.

"Yeah, because burying your over-sized fist in my stomach really had the desired effect last time, didn't it?" Kurt sniffed haughtily. He knew it would be smarter to keep his mouth shut, but he couldn't, he wouldn't just take this laying down. "And the time before, and oh, the time before that too. But you never know, maybe one of these days, it'll sink in through your thick skulls, although, it's been fifteen years, so maybe all those football hits have finally taken their toll." He forced his chin up, meeting their angry gazes. "You know what AA's definition of insanity is? That would be Alcoholic's Anonymous, just in case you weren't aware. They're a fairly well-known organisation. Anyhow, they define insanity as doing the same thing over and over, with the expectation of a different result. Sound familiar?"

"You can't just seem to take a hint, fag" Karofsky hissed, getting angry despite not having understood half the words that were obviously insults, thrown his way. "We're sick and tired of you prancing around these halls and spreading your fairy dust, so we've taken it upon ourselves to slap you back down."

"Boys, boys" Kurt sighed theatrically, suspecting this wasn't going to end well for him. He hated how the insults stung and burnt in his stomach . . . in his heart. He was above that. Sticks and stones and all that crap. "When are you going to realise my sexuality isn't all that different from your stupidity? It's just the way I am . . . and the sad way you are."

He was cut off by a thick, meaty fist slamming into the locker only inches from his head, the impact so hard it left a dent. Kurt flinched violently despite himself, and nearly lost it right there, at the thought of what damage that sort of force would do to his body, and he viciously suppressed the tremor that shook his body.

"It's damn unnatural, is what it is" Azimio announced. "It's disgusting and it's sick. You're a sin against nature."

"So here's the deal" Karofsky said in a low, threatening voice that made Kurt tremble to his bones, his false bravado evaporating on the spot. "You start dressing like a dude, start talking like a dude, and start acting like a dude, and we'll go back to throwing you in dumpsters and slushying you, for being a loser."

Azimio's fist buried itself in Kurt's stomach, and the countertenor gasped as the air was forced from his lungs, slumping in Karofsky's sudden, iron grip on his shoulders.

"We don't like what we see, and this is what happens" the bully finished, then flung the smaller boy violently into the lockers, his head and shoulder blades impacting with a resounding crash, before high-fiving his friend. They disappeared around the corner.

"Kurt!"

Footsteps, and then a figure crouched in front of Kurt's sprawled form. The teenager blinked woozily for a moment, then focussed on the familiar voice in front of him. "Mr. Schue."

He flushed furiously then, hating that he'd been caught out like this, screaming to the world that he was a victim.

"Kurt, what happened?" the teacher asked, his voice loaded with concern, eyes darting up and down the slowly-emptying corridors.

Kurt bit back the sharp retort that rose to his lips as he pulled his torso upright, so that he was leaning against the lockers. "Same old, same old" he muttered darkly, lifting his hand reflexively to the back of his head to check for blood. He was relieved when his fingers came away clean, and fisted his hand tightly, knuckles turning white. He wrapped his arms around his throbbing abdomen, fighting the urge to curl in around the pain, and maybe even clutch onto the nearest thing and bawl his eyes out. It wasn't the actions; he was almost immune to them, but somehow it never seemed to get easier, hearing that hatred thrown his way, knowing how much of the world agreed that he was wrong.

Will's eyes widened as he caught the intentions in Kurt's actions. "How long has this been going on?" he asked.

"What, the bullying?" Kurt sneered, determinedly avoiding that too-caring gaze. He pulled his legs to his chest, letting out a long, shaky breath, testing his newly bruised muscles. "In general, or this particular round?"

Will took a deep breath, clenching his jaw and willing the anger not to show through. He couldn't count how many times he'd begged Figgins to do something, but the principal was spineless and caved to greater powers without even a hint of resistance. He and a scant few other teachers did their best, keeping as much of an eye out between classes as they could, but it just wasn't enough, and Kurt was taking the brunt of it. "Is it getting worse?" He laid a gentle hand on the teenager's knee.

Kurt sniffed, feeling his abdomen really start its hot protesting, and he tightened his arms, his breath catching in his throat. Ow. He was going to be extremely sore for a bit, and knew that deep bruise would take weeks to fade. He'd have to be extra careful at home, so his Dad didn't see. "Ever since we did Lady Gaga last year" he admitted, his voice tiny. It wasn't shaking, he told himself, it wasn't. "I thought the summer would give it enough distance, but it appears I was mistaken" he muttered bitterly, resigned to the inevitability of it all. It just got to be so wearying, a never-ending uphill battle that left nothing for anything else. He went to lean his head back against the lockers, but stopped himself as he remembered the new bruise now on the back of his head.

He was the picture of abject misery, a rare chink in his armour, allowing someone to see past the haughty Ice Queen façade he bore so well, and Will would have been honoured by the trust granted him, if he wasn't convinced it was nothing more than a combination of right time and place and mindset; he would take serendipity when he could.

"Where did they hit you?" Will asked, not giving his young student the opportunity to deny it.

"Thankfully Karofsky decided to avoid my face. The locker, unfortunately, wasn't quite so lucky."

Will was pretty sure Kurt's head had been purposely close to that particular punch. "Kurt." He could see how visibly upset his student was, and it angered him. He didn't know how to help anymore.

"In the stomach" Kurt admitted, trying to play it down. "It's okay, I'm fine." He was pretty used to it, and knew the difference in pain when something was really wrong, or when it was just another ugly bruise. In grade eight, he'd been punched so hard in the abdomen that something had ruptured. He'd been rushed to the hospital, and straight into surgery with internal bleeding. Kurt didn't remember ever telling his Dad the truth, but he'd been hazy on morphine for a day or two, and besides, the man always knew, even if he didn't tell.

"It's not okay" Will said softly.

Tears sprang to Kurt's anguished, glasz eyes, and he turned his head away in shame, closing them as a traitorous tear escaped and trickled down his cheek. "It shouldn't be" Kurt agreed, his voice suddenly small, "but it is. Every time a teacher turns a blind eye, every time Figgins ignores a complaint, they're saying that it's okay." He sniffed hard, hating himself for the weakness he displayed, hating himself for letting them win. Again.

It physically tore at Will's heart to see the young man in such despair. Kurt was special, a one-in-a-million mind and personality that made teachers remember why they had chosen their path, that made teaching worth it. His entire life, society had knocked Kurt down, told him he was diseased and to be hated, and yet he still managed to stride the halls of McKinley with pride, dressed just as he chose, refusing to cave in to the bullies. It was awe-inspiring, and it was getting to be downright dangerous.

The fashionable countertenor had just as much right as anyone else to hold his head high, to wear whatever he chose, to hold hands with his partner or to kiss them, and yet in their closeted, little town, that was cause for . . . well, Will didn't want to think of what they did.

"It's not okay, Kurt" Will insisted. "And I need you to remember that. No matter what the small-minded people of Lima say, it's not okay." He rested his hand on Kurt's shoulder, squeezing gently in a gesture of support.

"I just . . . I get so tired of it sometimes" Kurt admitted, his voice so much tinier and vulnerable than he'd intended. He resolutely kept his face averted, unable to face his teacher. Just because he liked boys instead of girls, meant that he was less of a human being, that he deserved every slushie and hateful slur and violent action, and he was reaching the end of his rope, struggling alone in a world that attempted to tear him down every single endless day.

"I know" Will nodded. That wasn't a good sign, only the first week back, and already Kurt was reaching his limit. He wondered just what had happened over the summer, because he suspected it hadn't been carefree and fun. Not the way it should have been.

"Don't tell me it's going to get better, or that you're going to figure something out" Kurt said suddenly, his voice harsh, "because we both know that's not going to happen." He'd been let down far too many times to believe any promises. He'd believe if he saw it, and he doubted he ever would, not when the nation as a whole condoned the homophobia he faced on a daily basis. Life's cruel realities had made him a cynic.

"It will get better" Will insisted. "You know why?"

Kurt snorted. "Don't tell me, they're all going to fail out, because we both know that group of homophobic Neanderthals possesses the collective intelligence of a house fly. And even then, they still live in this cow-town, and not a single one is ever going to move further than five minutes from Mommy's deep-fried home-cooking and Tide laundry services."

Will chuckled, marvelling at the inner strength of a boy whom life's cruelties had forced to grow up far before time. "No. Although you make a valid point. No, it's going to get better because you've only got two more years here. Two long, difficult years, because I don't see Figgins and the school board changing things anytime soon, but after that, you're out of here, and onto a place where you'll be accepted and celebrated by everyone for who you are. I know you have big dreams Kurt, and you are going to be one of the few who get out of here. Not to mention, Nationals are in New York this year!"

Sometimes, Kurt wasn't sure whether he and Rachel were more excited, or Mr. Schue, but it was endearing and infectious, having a teacher who was just as pumped as they were, and it pushed them, as a club.

"New York" Kurt breathed. For as long as he could remember, that had been his dream, and he would whisper the words under his breath when things got particularly difficult, the idea a steady beacon that kept him from drowning completely, a siren song that pulled him, and refused to allow him to give in.

"Yeah." Will squeezed Kurt's shoulder again. "New York."

Kurt let out a deep breath, ignoring the spike of pain in his belly.

"Speaking of which, we're late for Sunshine's audition." Will rose gracefully to his feet, and held out a hand to Kurt, who reluctantly stretched out his hand to accept the help, knowing he was going to need it. Kurt gritted his teeth and ground his teeth at the pain, forced to rely more on his teacher than he'd intended. The man gave him a worried look as Kurt nearly fell forwards against his chest.

"Easy" Will soothed, settling both hands on Kurt's shoulders, ducking his head so that he was exactly at eye level with his student. "Kurt?" he questioned, the tone demanding honesty.

"It was a meaty high-school athlete's fist to the stomach, it's going to hurt. But that's all it's going to do. Well, that and bruise" he muttered, but he had become an expert in bruise and wound care. He passed his fingers experimentally over the tender spot as Will retrieved his bag. "Thank you" he blushed a little, not expecting the kind gesture. He swiped ineffectually at his eyes, knowing they were puffy and red, the signs of his distress unmistakeable.

Will eyed the distressed countertenor for a moment, then gave in to his instincts, and pulled him into a comforting hug. Kurt's slender body was stiff as a board, tension thrumming through his muscles, unused to and surprised by someone initiating physical contact with him that didn't involve one-sided pain. He could count on one hand the number of people in his life whom he felt comfortable allowing into his personal space; even his Dad often kept some distance, not being a very touchy-feely type. Most of society seemed to believe if they touched him, they could 'catch the gay', turning him into a modern-day leper that no one dared approach.

But this felt so good, and he needed the comfort more than he wanted to admit, and Kurt couldn't help himself as he leant briefly into the embrace, pulling in a deep breath, inhaling the fresh, lemony scent of his teacher's laundry detergent.

And that was just getting a little too personal, and he pulled abruptly back, not knowing what to do with the moment.

"Let's go." Will ignored his student's discomfort, but refused to completely let go, and wrapped an arm around Kurt's shoulders, leading them to the auditorium. He could still feel the fine trembles that hadn't stopped running through the young man's taut body, but opted not to say anything. At this moment, there was nothing he could do, except offer his student some of his own strength, until Kurt's returned.

Kurt couldn't help thinking how good it felt to be touched like that. He held himself aloof and apart, but he was a very tactile person, and he missed physical contact. Scratch that, he missed non-violent physical contact, loving, comforting gestures between people who cared about each other. He suspected that, if he ever became romantically involved with someone, something he highly doubted, he would be a cuddler. But that was neither here nor there.

They entered the auditorium, only to find the rest of the Glee club waiting, as expected.

"Oh, there you are Mr. Schue!" Rachel trilled, as only a soprano could. "And Kurt's here too. Good, everyone else is here, so we can get started!" She did a double take at the sight of the teacher's arm around her friend.

"Hey, guys. Sorry we're late."

Kurt couldn't find it in himself to raise his gaze to meet anyone else's, because at the moment he was feeling far too small and indiscriminately wearied, and he was trying to enjoy the brief, comforting respite Mr. Schue was affording him. It was times like these, when he just wanted to stay in the embrace for the rest of his life, pass on the heavy burdens he bore, and let someone else shoulder them for a while. And that was exactly what this was, a haven from the storm, a rare opportunity to allow himself to recharge his failing batteries.

They garnered more than a few quizzical, worried looks, because this was not normal behaviour for either of them. Kurt was visibly upset, carrying himself differently, and allowing someone to comfort him, and he wasn't even catching Mercedes' eye, which worried the black-haired diva immensely. A look from their teacher, however, prevented her from running over to her Kurt.

"Uh, Mr. Schue-"

With a quick shake of his head, Will cut Finn off, impressed when the teenager actually understood his gesture, his look warning the rest of the class not to ask. He gently steered Kurt into a row, slightly apart from the others, giving him the space he needed, and settled protectively next to the boy. "So, let's get this started!" he called, eager to see what their new member had prepared for them.

Kurt was sitting as he normally did, legs crossed, but this time both arms were wrapped protectively around his waist, and he was hunched over in his chair, his lanky frame falling in on itself and making him look so much smaller and more vulnerable.

Will reached out and rested one hand on Kurt's bicep, feeling the muscle jump beneath the unexpected touch. He tightened his grip briefly, purposely not looking over, affording the teenager the time he needed to compose himself. He knew that, by the time Sunshine finished, Kurt would have pulled himself together and be back to his haughty, fabulous self, probably even more so than normal, in an effort to make up for the previous lapse in armour. His wit would once again be intact and sharper than ever, his expressive eyes wiped carefully blank, and his foot keeping the beat.

But until then, Kurt could just soak up the strength being so freely given.