(Author's note: To Y, I'm just grinning and snickering at your rant about Kurt's boundary issues about Noah. He's getting a little desperate, poor guy; Rachel nailed it when she said he was lonely. But consider Noah had given him several green lights over the previous few days. It might have appeared to Kurt to be a reasonably calculated risk. I'm touched by the empathy everyone is showing for Noah - I'm accustomed to my readers yelling at me for treating Kurt badly, so it's a refreshing change of pace. Sorry if recent parts of the story seemed sluggish, but I'm sticking with canon. I hope this chapter makes up for it. Spoilers through 2.07 The Substitute, with some heavy quoting of 2.06 Never Been Kissed. Spoilers, as well, for the plot of the musical RENT, and warnings for sexual bullying, two kisses, frottage and happy conclusions. I will likely continue the story in a sequel. Enjoy! -amy)

Fall 2010, part five

Kurt felt grateful for an excuse to call Mercedes. It had been so long since he'd had something he could talk to her about that meant anything, but he thought she might understand a little bit about the spark that had been kindled inside him when he'd stood there in the senior commons at Dalton and heard the Warblers sing.

"They were all, like, thrilled to be watching the Glee club perform," he said, stretching out on his back on his bed. "Nobody was embarrassed, not even a little. And the lead singer, Blaine, he was having eye sex with the whole audience, and nobody was doing anything except smiling."

"I think he was just having eye sex with you, Kurt," she said, grinning. "Seriously, I think it's great. But you could have gotten in a lot of trouble if they hadn't been so nice about you spying on them."

Kurt wasn't exactly sure how to explain why he'd felt like he had to go to Dalton. Noah had practically dared him to do it, which might not have been a reason all by itself. But Kurt imagined walking up to Noah the next day and telling him, I saw the Warblers, and they're not only fantastic, everybody admires them - and their lead singer is really, really gay, so there.

"Blaine said he would come to McKinley and help me confront Karofsky," he said. Even that wasn't the complete truth, because what Blaine had really said was that Kurt should think about transferring to Dalton. Which was a crazy, stupid idea, because he could never afford it, and there wasn't any way that he could really imagine doing things so differently from the way he was already doing them. He could never move to Westerville. He could never leave his dad.

"That's a great idea," Mercedes said. She sounded so understanding. He wondered what she would sound like if he said to her, I've been talking to Noah in juvie every day for the past three weeks, and last week I almost kissed him. He didn't think understanding would be the word for it. She might very well try to talk some sense into him. Which would be so hypocritical of her, because she's the one who dated him. And now Kurt was getting angry at the imaginary Mercedes in his head. He sighed.

"You think I should call Blaine?" he asked. "I have no idea what would happen, but... just being there made me feel more courageous. It would be great to have him standing with me when I confronted Karofsky."

"Definitely," she agreed. "Karofsky's an ass. He deserves a little ganging-up."

Kurt sorted through the thoughts in his head and chose one that seemed safer than most. "Can you believe Noah's attitude today? I think being in juvie did something to him."

She snorted. "Are you kidding? Puck has always been like that. Maybe you're just noticing now because he's been gone. He's no better than Karofsky, Kurt."

"That's not true," he told her, stung. "He doesn't bully kids anymore. Not like he used to."

"No, not like that. I'm just saying, he's kind of a jerk. When he came into Glee today with Artie and asked Brittany and Santana out on a date, they -"

"Wait, what? He asked them out on a date?" Kurt thought about the way Noah had been so openly flirting with the Cheerios in Brit Lit. He sighed. It just didn't make any sense.

Mercedes nodded. "All he did was treat them like garbage and they were fawning all over him. I never would have expected that to work."

Kurt said nothing. Suddenly he felt like crying. "I should get going," he told her at last.

"Sure. Let me know if Blaine decides to come visit. I'd love to get a look at your boy."

Kurt thought it might have been a little stalkery of him to track down a picture of Blaine Anderson on the Internet and print it out to hang in his locker, but if he couldn't stalk a cute gay boy from a rival glee club, who could he stalk? Anyway, it made him feel a little better to have someone besides Noah to pay attention to.

He send Blaine a text before bed, inviting him to McKinley "whenever he could find time." Blaine's response made him smile: I suspect I could be excused from classes for a good cause.

"Was Noah at school today?" his dad asked when he came upstairs to tell him goodnight.

"He was," said Kurt. "And he treated me like garbage, and he flirted with girls all day. Apparently he's going out on a date with Santana tomorrow night."

"Ouch." Burt frowned. "Do you have any idea why he's acting this way?"

"Maybe. He won't tell me, so I'm guessing something happened in juvie that embarrassed him. I already tried going over to his house, and he just told me to leave." He staunchly did not cry. "And at school... Dave Karofsky was bothering me again, and Noah... he ignored it. Ignored me."

Burt's mouth tightened. "Yeah. Well, I can tell you, when boys act like jerks and push people away, it's usually because they're scared."

"I know, Dad. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by now, but..." He closed his eyes, tight, tighter. "I just thought, maybe, this time it would be different."

But it wasn't any different. Kurt waited until he was in bed, in the dark, with Shadow Puppets safely stashed in his desk drawer again, before he let his bitter tears overwhelm him, and mourn the loss of something he'd almost had.

Kurt looked up from his chemistry homework when his phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, which usually was enough for him not to bother answering it, but he'd been on edge all day trying to avoid both Noah and Karofsky. Sometimes not knowing was worse than knowing. He picked it up. "Hello?"

"Uh, Kurt? It's Artie. I'm calling for a favor."

He sat up. "What do you need?"

"I was double-dating tonight with Puck, and he ditched me at Breadsticks and left with Britt and Santana. I'm too embarrassed to call my dad to pick me up. I knew you had a big car. and I was hoping... do you think you could come get me?"

"Sure, of course," he said, slipping his feet into his shoes. "I'll be there in ten minutes."

Artie was waiting for him in the lobby at Breadsticks. He gave Kurt a red-faced smile.

"Thanks for saving my sorry behind. He tried to leave without paying, and I just couldn't do it, and he said... well, it doesn't matter. I should know better than to trust Puck."

Kurt took a firm grasp on the handles of Artie's wheelchair and pushed him toward his car. "I know exactly what you mean."

He could feel Noah's hands under his shirt, skating along his ribs, inspiring sensations through his body. He tipped his head back further to allow Noah's mouth access to his neck, his throat. "Yes," he sighed, "just like that..."

Noah's hips wedged against his, pressing him against the bed and making him groan, but his lips were gentle, feather-light and maddening. "I'm gonna take my time, babe."

"Please, Noah," he begged, "I've been waiting for so long."

Noah's hand carded through his hair. He smiled down at him. "I know what you want."

He tensed as Noah's other hand moved down along his abdomen and into the waistband of his pants, unbuttoning and unzipping with incredible deftness. "God, yes..."

"Kurt..." whispered Noah, into the curve of his neck, "Kurt... Kurt..."

"... Kurt!" called his dad from the top of the stairs. Kurt sat up suddenly, jerking his own hand out of his pajama pants. "Are you awake? You're going to be late."

"Yeah, Dad, I'm... um. I'm awake." He gripped the edges of his mattress, shaking off the dream, cursing his dad's poor timing. Just a few more minutes, and he would have...

"Come on, Kurt, Up and at 'em."

Kurt shed his pajamas and dressed quickly, ignoring his arousal, and hurried through breakfast. The dream stayed with him all morning, long after his erection had subsided. More than once he found himself distracted by vivid thoughts of Noah's hands, his voice, his body thrusting against him -

And suddenly, there he was, taking a seat next to Kurt in Glee as the girls arranged the props for their mashup. Noah gave Kurt a cocky smile, and before he thought about what he was doing, Kurt smiled back.

"I hear you gave Artie a ride home last night," he said.

They were the first words Noah had said to him in over a week that were remotely kind. Juxtaposed with the sound of Noah moaning his name in his dream that morning, he could barely choke out a reply that made sense. But then the girls started their mashup, and Kurt was saved from having to respond. It was easy to be distracted by the lights and hairography of their number. Michael, visiting from band, dressed in leather and playing his electric guitar, didn't hurt either.

Kurt glanced over at Noah, caught in a moment of easy laughter. His eyes sparkled with excitement, and Kurt felt another devastating shiver as he pictured how much more stunning he'd look if he were naked... his phone buzzed.

It was from Blaine. Courage, was all it said, and Kurt relaxed, smiling.

He received another identical text as he was walking out of Glee, and although he couldn't help but wonder what had prompted Blaine to make Kurt his community service project, he was still touched by his persistence. A friend, he thought, like me. It was comforting to know that Blaine had been there; Blaine understood what he was going through.

Then the phone was knocked out of his hand, and Kurt was slammed back into the bank of lockers, Karofsky's glare retreating before him down the hallway. It might have been Blaine's texts, but Kurt decided later that it was the frustration of all the things he wasn't getting that drove him to follow Dave into the locker room.

"Hey!" he shouted, at the top of his lungs. "I'm talking to you!"

"Girls' locker room is next door," said Dave, not even bothering to look at him.

"What is your problem?" he snapped, crossing to stand beside him. Dave took a step back.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. What are you so scared of?"

Dave sneered. "Besides you, sneaking in here to take a peek at my junk?"

Kurt had had enough of being jerked around by football players. He gave up on trying to keep control of his emotions. "Oh, yeah, every straight guy's nightmare, that all us gays are out to molest and convert you. Well, guess what, hamhock? You're not my type."

Dave's chin went up. "That right?"

"Yeah. I don't dig on chubby boys who sweat too much and who're going to be bald by the time they're thirty." Kurt's imagination was all too aware of exactly the kind of boy he did dig on, no matter how improbable or pointless his desire might have turned out to be. He just took an angry pleasure in seeing the hurt on Dave's face.

"Do not push me, Hummel," he said through gritted teeth, raising his fist threateningly.

"You gonna hit me?" Kurt barely gave it a glance. "Do it."

"Don't push me," he repeated, slamming the locker.

"Because it's not going to change who I am. You can't punch the gay out of me any more than I can punch the ignoramus out of you."

"Get out of my face!" screamed Dave, but Kurt wasn't budging. All the words he couldn't say to Noah were streaming out of his mouth, and he didn't feel even the tiniest bit bad about taking his anger out on Karofsky.

He brandished a shaking finger in Dave's face. "You are nothing but a scared little boy who can't handle how extraordinarily ordinary you are!"

And then Dave's hands were clutching Kurt's face, nearly identically to the way in which Kurt had imagined himself holding Noah's cheeks just last week in the meeting room at juvie, and before he could react, Dave was kissing him. All Kurt could think was Wait, no! This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. You don't get to steal my first kiss.

Dave pulled away, his face accusing, and then he leaned in to close the space between them again. With both hands, Kurt pushed Dave away as hard as he could. One hand crept up to his face to shield his mouth.

The expression on Dave's face was so hurt, so impossibly familiar that Kurt wanted to tell him, I'm sorry, you can't have this, and I know how much it sucks to want something and to not be able to have it, but no words would come out.

Dave slammed his hand against the locker with a tiny cry of despair, making Kurt flinch. Then he headed for the door without another word, leaving Kurt standing there alone. Whatever images, pleasant or distracting, had been present in his mind earlier that day, they'd been erased, overwritten by Karofsky's act of theft.

He managed to stumble through the rest of his day without drawing too much attention to himself, trying to allow himself to be caught up by ordinary things. But every now and then, Kurt would feel Dave's hands on his face, Dave's lips on his, and he would have to stop what he was doing and swallow hard to keep from losing his lunch.

When school was over and he made his way back to his car, Kurt sat there for several long minutes, feeling more numb than anything else. Numb and stupid, to have put himself into a situation where he could have allowed Karofsky to take advantage of him like that. He felt a twisting pain at the thought, and found himself reaching for his phone to text Noah. Surely, Noah would understand. He would dig himself out of whatever hole he'd buried himself in, and -

And Kurt saw there, on the screen, Blaine's latest Courage text, and he burst into tears.

When they subsided, he put his phone back into his pocket and drove home.

Blaine arrived at McKinley after Glee the next morning, after Figgins had summoned Noah and Mr. Schue to his office for unknown reasons. Kurt introduced Blaine to Mercedes and Tina, telling himself he certainly wasn't hovering outside the main office to find out what was going on with Noah.

"It's a lot like the school I went to before Dalton," said Blaine, nodding at the traffic in the hallway as they walked. "So where's this guy? I want to give him a chance to tell his story, if he's willing, but I need him to know you're serious about leaving you alone, too."

Kurt smiled gratefully at Blaine's earnest efforts. "He's in calculus this hour, so he'll be coming down the south stairs. We can probably catch him if we head up there now. But - Blaine, I really don't think he -"

"Hey," said Blaine, putting a hand on Kurt's shoulder. "Courage, remember? Let me take care of this."

The door to the office swung open and Noah stormed out, pushing past three students and heading up the staircase at a run. Kurt watched him go with an anxious knot in his stomach. Blaine tracked his gaze.

"Friend of yours?"

"Not really," Kurt muttered, shaking his head. "He - it's not important."

They found Karofsky on the stairs, and Blaine was courageous indeed. Even when Karofsky slammed him Blaine against the wall, threatening, "Do not mess with me," Blaine's only response was to laugh and say, "Well, he's not coming out anytime soon."

Kurt watched him retreat and dropped to the stairs. He could feel his hands shaking. Blaine took a seat next to him. "Hey. What's going on? Why are you so upset?"

"Because..." Kurt sighed regretfully. "Up until yesterday, I had never been kissed. At least not one that counted."

Blaine nodded understanding. "Well, maybe there just hasn't been anyone that counted yet. Doesn't mean there never will be."

"No. That's the worst part. There is, and he..." Kurt looked away, not wanting to see Blaine's sympathy. "He doesn't. I mean, I thought he did, but... he doesn't want that. And I kept waiting, thinking, it's not the right time... and now..."

"You wish you hadn't waited?"

Kurt nodded. "And now it's too late."

Blaine smiled. "Come on. I'll buy you lunch, and you can tell me all about him."

Blaine was a good listener, and the more Kurt told him about Noah, the more he felt like he should go back to the beginning and start over. But eventually he thought he'd disclosed enough of their embarrassing, tenuous friendship for Blaine to get a sense of what was going on. He ground to a halt and took his first bite of panini, realizing Blaine had already eaten nearly all of his.

"So my question is..." Blaine swallowed and wiped his mouth. "Why do you feel like it doesn't count unless it's perfect? I mean, this is life. It's not the movies; it's not the stage. It's messy and complicated, and things go wrong, but we just keep going, right? There's no take two or dress rehearsal. We're always making our movie, every moment. Wouldn't it be better just to say, okay, this is where I am, this is what I want, and I'm going to take it from here?"

Kurt nodded. "Of course it would. But I think I've been holding on to this wish for too long to feel like it doesn't matter. Even if Karofsky never talked to me again, I'd still know I could never have my first kiss over again."

"But like you said, you'd had kisses before. Ones that apparently didn't count. Why can't this be one of those? Can't you decide what counts and what doesn't?"

"Maybe." Kurt struggled through another bite of sandwich, but finally he put it down. The confrontation with Karofsky that afternoon had him feeling vaguely sick. "I think I'd feel more like I could do that if I thought I could walk up to Noah and say, Okay, this happened, and can you just kiss me now already? But he won't even talk to me." He shook his head. "I just feel like there must be something wrong with me."

"Kurt. No." Blaine's voice was far too kind, and it made it that much harder to keep from crying. "I mean, I just met you, and I already know you're pretty awesome. It sounds like Noah thought so, too, even until recently. I think you're going to have to accept that something outside of your control interfered with Noah's ability to deal with his feelings for you. That doesn't mean the feelings have gone away. You just need to give him a chance to come to terms with whatever it was, and to come back and talk to you about it."

He drove Kurt back to McKinley and dropped him off on the bus loop, looking regretful. "Hey, I'm sorry David wasn't ready to listen. Maybe another time. But I'm glad I got to hear about your guy, and I'll be crossing my fingers for you."

Kurt smiled at Blaine. He wondered if Blaine had been serious about getting credit for helping him through this crisis. He certainly seemed more personally invested than he should have, given the circumstances. "Thank you," he said. "Really. You've been so kind."

"I'll be thinking of you, Kurt. Stay in touch." With a wave, he drove off.

Kurt felt better the rest of the day, and even managed to walk past Karofsky in the hall once without freaking out. But when Noah didn't show up for study hall, he got worried.

"Did you see Noah in geometry?" he whispered to Quinn. She shook her head. Kurt stood and went to the front of the room.

"Did Noah Puckerman leave early today?" he asked Ms. Ryan. She shook her head, checking the attendance record.

"He was marked absent, and I didn't get a note. Don't worry about Puckerman."

Kurt felt angry at that, wanting to tell her I'll worry about anybody I damn well please, and if anybody needs someone to worry about him, it's Noah. But he waited out the rest of the hour. When he got down to the first floor to his locker, he saw Noah trading secret handshakes with Artie. He barely had time to wonder what that was about before Karofsky slammed him into the bank of lockers again.

"You okay, Kurt?" It was Artie, pausing beside him to give him a hand up. Kurt glared down the hall to the spot where Karofsky had disappeared.

"You know, the worst part isn't being pushed around," Kurt told him. "The worst part is how many people walk right by every time and pretend like nothing's wrong. Like they don't even notice."

"Everybody's scared, man," said Artie. "The only people who're gonna stick their necks out for you are your friends, and even they get scared and self-involved sometimes."

Kurt nodded. "Is Noah - I saw you talking to him. Is everything okay? He missed study hall."

"I think so, now?" Artie glanced down the hallway. "He was going to skip town, but I convinced him to stay. He has to pick up garbage on the highway for the next six weeks after school for community service, and I told him I'd tutor him in geometry while he does it."

"I don't get it," said Kurt, wrinkling his brow. "Why are you being nice to him after he left you at Breadsticks?"

" 'Cause he needs a friend. Maybe nobody ever taught him how to do it the right way. I don't know, maybe I'm a pushover, but I think everybody deserves a chance. Even a lot of chances. And I don't think Puck has had many of them." Artie watched him curiously. "Don't you think so?"

"I -" He paused. "I guess I'm afraid that if I give people too many chances, they'll take advantage of me."

"Maybe. But if you don't wait for the right moment, maybe you never really gave them the kind of chance they needed?" Artie shrugged. "I'm not hurting myself by trying to be Puck's friend. Seems like he needs a good influence right now."

Kurt hesitated, then screwed up his courage and said, "I think you might be the only person he's listening to right now. I think something might have happened to him, in juvie. Would you try to get him to talk to you about it?"

Artie cocked his head. "Sure," he said. "How -?"

He shook his head. "I'm really not sure I can tell you. Maybe Noah will. You can tell him I said it was okay, if he does."

It felt a little easier after that for Kurt to walk past Noah in the hallway and be ignored. He still didn't know what kind of burden Noah was carrying, but at least he knew Artie might be around to help him shoulder it.

After that, Kurt started meeting Blaine at the Lima Bean for coffee as often as Blaine was willing to drive up. He tried to suggest they meet halfway for a while, but Blaine assured him there was really nothing in Bellefontaine or Marysville worth doing. "I don't mind the hour and a half drive," he said. "Maybe your dad would let you come down to Columbus sometime. We could go dancing at Wallstreet."

"Sure," he said, smiling. It was a little breathtaking the way Blaine tossed out ideas like this, as though it was not only ordinary to invite another boy to a dance club - a gay dance club, he suspected - but to assume that the other boy would accept.

Kurt soon discovered that he and Blaine had a lot of things in common beyond music, including fashion and Broadway. He loved hearing about Kurt's involvement in theater, although he himself had never done anything other than sing.

"I like being on stage, but Dalton's academics are pretty tough," Blaine told him. "I have to work hard to keep up. They might still make me repeat a year. But I really feel like I'm learning things. It's amazing how much easier that is to do when you're not afraid for your safety. Or your sanity."

Kurt soon realized the way the Warblers managed their glee club was completely different from the way Mr. Schue handled things. "We don't have a director," Blaine explained. "It's run by the council, upperclassmen who are elected. I'm the head soloist, by appointment. Next year the council might choose someone else. I'm just honored they chose me, a junior."

"You're very talented," said Kurt, and he wasn't kidding. Blaine was as much a showman as Noah, but far more humble about it. Kurt wasn't sure if his self-esteem was really that much healthier than any other teenage boy's. He was a good listener, but Kurt noticed he seldom shared much about himself.

"I like performing." Blaine put his hand into his pocket and pulled out two tickets. "I probably should have asked you before I got these, but... they're doing RENT down at the Dayton Opera House. Greg Evigan is playing Roger."

"Wow. Isn't he kind of old for that part?" Kurt took the tickets, trying not to feel anxious. "Um... Blaine, are you... asking me on a date? Because I'm not sure I'm ready for that."

Blaine smiled, shaking his head. "Consider it a good luck charm, toward future relationships. Ones where you won't have to feel worried if you should kiss him or not. What do you say?"

"I say yes, if my dad says yes, and I don't see why he wouldn't." Kurt paused. "I did mention that Noah's father works for the Opera House?"

"You did. Is this going to be too weird for you, Kurt?"

"Maybe," said Kurt. "But I don't think it's weird enough to keep me from wanting to see RENT. Just be aware I might freak out."

"Duly noted," Blaine agreed. "And I'll take that as a yes, precluding a yes from your dad. How are things going in Glee? Did you find your twelfth member yet?"

Kurt swirled his nonfat mocha. "Everything's on hold until Mr. Schue recovers from pneumonia. I found us a substitute teacher for Glee. And before you say anything, she's remarkable, but... she seems to think school is an excuse for a party? I'm not saying I don't like singing Cee Lo, but she gave Noah the answers to the pop quiz she gave in Spanish. To me, there's a line, and I think she may have crossed it."

Blaine's smile was amused. "You've got a strong moral sense, Kurt. I think it's kind of adorable."

Kurt tried not to be offended by this, but it was hard to stay annoyed at Blaine when he was grinning at him like that. "Well... I should get going. I'll text you later about RENT." He gave Blaine a hug and waved as he headed out the door.

It occurred to Kurt later that he hadn't thought to ask Blaine if their coffee trips were dates. They felt far too much like the kind of thing he would do with Mercedes or Finn than what he'd always wanted to have with Noah. It was a relief to know Blaine hadn't intended them to be.

When Mercedes came out with them on Thursday, Kurt had just as much fun talking with Blaine, but on the way home she let out a huge sigh. "God, talk about awkward. I have never felt more like a third wheel."

"What? No way. I mean, I was so glad you came out with us."

"I'm talking about Blaine," she assured him. "Kurt, he's into you. Trust me, it's obvious."

"No, he said... it wasn't a date." Kurt shook his head, trying to convince himself, because yeah, it really did feel like Blaine wanted it to be a date, and that made him feel even weirder about his plans to go to Dayton with him on Friday. "I think I have to take him at face value. If he says it's not, it's not."

"Hey, Kurt. Blaine's a catch. If he wants to go out with you, I say who cares if you think it's a date? Enjoy it. If it turns into something more, isn't that a good thing?"

Not if I'm in love with somebody else, Kurt thought miserably. Somebody I can't even talk about. For somebody who prided himself on being as open and out as he could be, Kurt felt an awful lot like Noah had him locked in the closet.

His dad did say yes, when he asked, but he sat Kurt down and asked him a lot of questions about Blaine - if he was a good driver (reasonably so), and what his parents did (something in business, Kurt thought, and why should that matter?). Eventually, though, it became clear what his dad was getting at.

"It's not a date, Dad," said Kurt. Burt nodded.

"I'm just worried about you, Kurt. After that stuff with Noah - I still don't really know what happened there -"

"I know," he sighed. "I don't either. And I don't think I will, unless he decides to start talking to me again."

"Yeah, well, I just see how unhappy you are, and I don't want you thinking that another boy is the solution to that. You're great, all by yourself, Kurt. Okay?"

Kurt thought this was precious coming from a man who was practically engaged, but he nodded. "I told Blaine I'm not ready to date anybody. And he knows all about Noah. And... it'll be fine."

He almost told his dad about what was going on with Karofsky, but he knew it wasn't going to go over well. His dad was going to be angry, and after his arrhythmia - well, Kurt really didn't think he could go through that again. It was easier just to keep dealing with it himself. I'm gonna kill you appeared in his dreams more frequently than romantic scenes with Noah, but he figured that was just his subconscious dealing with it as best as it could.

Blaine came to the house to pick him up, dressed in a bow tie and a very different sort of jacket than the one he wore with his school uniform. He shook Kurt's dad's hand and smiled and talked about football until Kurt was shifting from foot to foot.

"We should probably get on the road," he said. "We'll stop on the way home if we get too tired."

"I'm not worried," said Burt, and Kurt had to restrain himself from staring at him. He mentioned it to Blaine in the car.

"My dad's never not worried before," he explained. "Apparently you're some new breed of teenager."

"I usually put parents at ease," said Blaine modestly. "I think it's the clean-cut look."

Kurt sat with that idea for a few minutes, trying not to be offended by what Blaine had said, but he wasn't sure exactly what bothered him so much about it until he remembered Artie's comments last week about Noah not knowing how to be a friend.

"You think Noah's a bad influence on me," he said.

Blaine looked surprised. "I didn't say that, Kurt. I think you're probably a good influence on him, though."

Kurt thought about the boy who had offered to come over to his house when Finn had called him nasty names. That boy had been a perfect gentleman, calming him down, keeping his hands to himself, respecting Kurt's boundaries while giving him everything he needed. He felt the anger rising inside him, about to be inappropriately directed at Blaine, and decided to keep quiet.

The opera house was as beautiful as Kurt had remembered. Blaine smiled as Kurt told him about the vast prop warehouse in the basement.

"Do you think we could sneak down there afterwards?" he whispered excitedly.

"Maybe," Kurt allowed. He felt reluctant to share that experience with Blaine, remembering finding Noah in the dark by following the sound of his voice, reciting Duke Orsino's soliloquy about love. He smiled.

"What?" Blaine asked, smiling too. Kurt shook his head.

"I was really an idiot for not realizing Noah was in love with me. Even as far back as ninth grade, he was definitely hitting on me, and I was just stuck on the idea that he was straight. I never even asked him; that's how sure I was."

"Well, maybe he is," Blaine said, shrugging.

Kurt laughed. "Uh, no. I asked him a month ago to define his sexuality, and he said he was gay. When I asked him why not bi, he said something like, 'I know what my fantasies are like, and they don't include girls.'"

Blaine looked pensive. "I think I might put myself somewhere along the Kinsey Scale, and I can objectively find girls beautiful, or even sexy... but I still identify as gay. I just can't imagine myself with a woman long term."

"I tried making out with a girl. Once."

"Yeah?" Blaine grinned. "How was that?"

Kurt remembered Brittany's running commentary about boys and how they tasted. "I think I was kind of vaguely turned on by the idea that she'd once kissed Noah. Well, and everybody else in the school, but maybe that didn't matter so much? That was about as far as it went for me."

"Well." Blaine clasped his hands together around his knee, looking as prissy as any man Kurt had ever seen. "I've made out with a few girls, but I admit I was really drunk every time, and I don't think I would choose to do it if I weren't drunk."

"I guess I always figured if I needed to take a drug to enjoy something, I probably shouldn't be doing it," said Kurt.

"No, but you're more courageous than the average boy," Blaine told him. "I really admire you, Kurt."

Kurt flushed as the house lights dimmed. "That means a lot, coming from you."

He'd watched the movie production of RENT enough times to know the show by heart, but he hadn't realized how different the stage production would seem when viewing it live. He found himself remembering Mr. Puckerman's words about performers must use their words and bodies to make you forget there is a stage.

He was bawling before the middle of the first act, and when Blaine offered his hand, he grasped it tight and didn't let go. At intermission, Blaine waited while Kurt blew his nose and wiped his eyes, then asked gently, "Do you need anything? Some water, maybe?"

"Maybe," he said, his voice wobbly. Blaine walked with him to the lobby.

"It affected me that way the first time I saw it, too," Blaine assured him.

Kurt wasn't sure how to ask why it wasn't affecting him this time, but he knew well enough that emotions weren't something anyone could control or predict.

He was admiring the hat the woman across the lobby was wearing when he saw Noah. Kurt immediately became aware of all the skin on his body, both the way he fit inside the tailored jacket and pants he was wearing, and the way that skin was containing all the emotions that loomed large inside him. He clutched at Blaine's arm to keep from stumbling into the woman in front of them.

Noah was watching Kurt intently, his jaw set in what looked like anger, but he didn't approach them until Blane noticed Kurt looking at him and let out a little laugh. "Small world. That's Noah, right?"

"Everybody calls him Puck," Kurt rasped, his throat dry, and drank the entire cup of water Blaine pressed into his hands.

Noah looked fantastic in his suit; Kurt tried not to stare at his shoulders, but he could already tell what would feature in his dreams that night. God.

"Hey," said Blaine, stepping in front of Kurt before Noah could say a word, holding out his hand. "I'm Kurt's friend, Blaine. He's told me a lot about you."

"Yeah, he's got a big mouth." Noah looked Blaine up and down, then turned his glare on Kurt. "Where'd you find him?"

"Blaine is a member of the Warblers," said Kurt, his voice coming out far too high and sharp. "Remember? You told me to go check them out."

"Fuck, Kurt, I didn't mean you should bring him home." Noah's brow furrowed. Then he grinned and took Blaine's hand, still extended. "Call me Puck."

"I'm glad to meet you," said Blaine. "And it's not a date. I knew Kurt had been wanting to see RENT, and I happened to get tickets -"

"Yeah, to a sold out show." Noah snorted quietly. "Subtle. What do you think so far?"

The question wasn't clearly directed to anyone, but Kurt picked up on the challenge. "I've been crying since 'Life Support,'" he said. "Angel is spectacular, and Joanne has the best voice, but I thought the staging in 'La Vie Boheme' was particularly good."

"Yeah, sharp choreography. And check it out: I watched La bohème on BBC in juvie, and dude. That song, 'Light My Candle?' That whole scene is straight out of the fucking opera." Noah's grin had broadened, but he seemed to realize he was relaxing and the smile vanished.

"You like opera?" Blaine asked. The question was harmless enough, but Noah bristled anyway.

"Yeah. So what?"

"Nothing. I think it's great. I don't really know much about opera myself, but I suppose RENT is an opera of sorts, isn't it?"

"Technically." Noah looked like he wanted to sneer, but he looked back at Kurt and subsided. "Well, I'm glad you got to see it, anyway. Catch you dudes later."

"Noah," Kurt said, and Noah paused, on the edge of flight. Kurt watched him scowling. "Can we talk? For just a minute?"

"I don't know if this is really the place," Blaine murmured. Kurt felt his anger flare. He'd never cared for anybody trying to handle him, and he didn't like it any better coming from Blaine.

"Please," he asked again.

Noah was very still. Finally he sighed and walked toward the side hallway that housed his father's office. Kurt cast Blaine a look that begged his understanding, but Blaine was already nodding, withdrawing.

"I'll see you back at our seats, Kurt," said Blaine. "Nice to meet you, Puck."

The office looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time Kurt had seen it, except the pile of mail on the desk had grown, and there was a fine layer of dust on the desk. Noah closed the door behind him.

"Say what you have to say," he said. "You've got less than fifteen minutes until curtain."

Kurt wrapped his arms around himself. "You're not going to tell me about what happened?"


"So something did happen."

Noah mouth twitched. "You're not going to trick me into talking about it, Kurt, so don't even bother to try."

"I'm just worried about you, Noah -"

"I'm fine," he snapped, his eyes showing Kurt exactly how fine he was.

"Yeah, you think that's going to get me to back off? I'm a lot more stubborn than you are, believe me. Whatever you're feeling, I still love you just as much as I ever did." Kurt watched Noah flinch a little at the words love you. "You don't want to hear it?"

"No," he whispered.

Whether that meant no, I don't want to hear it, or no, I do, Kurt didn't really care. He took a step forward, and when Noah didn't back away, another.

"Something happened to me, too," said Kurt. "But you have to swear you won't do anything if I tell you what it was. No vigilante crap, got it?"

Noah's eyes widened. "You - Kurt?"

"Promise," he insisted, even as Noah came forward and grabbed his arms. Kurt caught his breath, wondering how this kind of interaction could feel so incredibly different from the way it had been with Karofsky.

Noah's eyes trailed a quick path from the top of Kurt's head down his body and back up. Kurt felt it like a touch, his body awakening to Noah's closeness, his scent, all the things he'd denied he still wanted, but in the moment could not have ignored if he'd tried.

"Did he hurt you?" Noah demanded.

"No. He -" He didn't even need to say who it was, because Noah apparently knew, but he had to say the whole thing, to make sure there was no confusion. "Karofsky - I confronted him. Yelled at him. And he - kissed me."

Noah was watching him, listening with tense focus. "Yeah?"

"That's it. He tried to again, but I pushed him away, and he left."

Kurt watched Noah's body slowly relax. "That's all?"

"All? God, Noah, it was my first kiss. It was - you know how I felt about that, how much I - I was saving that." He gave Noah a pained look. "For you."

"Yeah," Noah said. He loosened his grasp on Kurt's shoulders. "I know. But... Kurt." He reached up and touched Kurt's face, his expression completely sober. "It could have been so much worse."

Kurt felt something inside him go cold at Noah's words. "You," he whispered.

Noah shook his head, his face saying I can't, don't push this, even as his hand came up around the back of Kurt's neck, cupping it firmly. His other arm hand slid around to rest on the small of his back. Kurt felt his own body going loose in Noah's arms, every romance novel trope brought to life, right there in Aaron Puckerman's dusty office. All he could focus on were Noah's lips, murmuring gentle words:

"I should have done this two years ago."

Those lips, pressed to his, felt nothing like the ones he'd previously kissed. Brittany's lips had been soft and pliant and moist, in a somewhat uncomfortable way. Karofsky's had been hard and tight, as much controlled as controlling, and not erotic at all. But Noah held back only long enough to make sure Kurt wasn't telling him to stop - and god, he wasn't, not stopping - and then, with a strangled groan, his hand was in Kurt's hair and his mouth open, his tongue seeking impatient entry into Kurt's mouth.

Kurt had always watched people kissing with a kind of fascinated distaste. He'd found the chaste touch of lips beautiful and romantic, but anything that remotely brought to mind the phrase swapping spit was enough to make him shudder and avert his eyes. But this, what Noah was doing with his lips and tongue - every movement seemed to be directly linked to his cock and his ass. Each thrust had him pressing into Noah's hip, grinding against him with a desperate whine. This noise seemed only to inspire Noah to grip his ass more firmly and bury his hand in the back of Kurt's hair, jerking it back.

"Yes?" Noah asked.

"Yes," Kurt responded instantly, "yes, god, please."

Those were the only words Noah let him utter, as he drove Kurt up against the back of the door, protecting the back of his head with one hand. Kurt couldn't do much more than hang on, but Noah wasn't impeding the movement of his hands, and he found them running over every square inch of Noah's body, all the parts of him that he had dreamed of touching for so long. He started with his shoulders, but quickly moved to his neck, his back, his chest. The sensation of Noah's tense abdomen under his fingers had him scrambling to untuck his shirt, and Noah paused long enough to assist him with this.

"You gonna tell me to stop?" Noah asked again. Kurt shook his head, gazing up at him, and Noah kissed him again, harder this time. Kurt tried to quiet the noises coming from his mouth, but they were kind of desperate and needy, and he could tell Noah was completely getting off on them. Noah fixed his body against Kurt's, squeezing his ass, and set up a measured, very intentional rhythm, thrusting into the hollow of his hip.

"Talk to me," he demanded, moving his mouth to Kurt's neck.

"W-what?" Kurt gasped, the pressure of Noah's teeth on his skin far more erotic than he'd ever expected.

"Anything. Your voice." His breathing was heavy and uneven, familiar to Kurt's memory from all the time last summer they spent on the phone together. "Just - talk to me."

He tucked his hand inside Noah's shirt, wedging into the space left by Noah's insistent thrusts. "You're - you feel so good, Noah... I've been dreaming about you for so long... wanting, so much..."

Noah groaned. "Tell me?"

"Your hands... your - you, inside me..."

"Yeah, babe, you know I want that..." He moved his mouth to Kurt's ear, panting hard. "Wanna fuck you, so good - oh, fuck, Kurt -"

Noah rolled his forehead down to rest on Kurt's neck, both hands grasping his hips now, and Kurt felt a spot of warmth bloom on his hip where Noah was thrusting. He couldn't quite come to terms with what was happening, but before he could pull away, Noah's fingers were deftly undoing Kurt's zipper, letting his pants slither down to pool around his ankles.

"We can't really do that now, but god, I really want to, believe me." One arm moved around Kurt's back and under his shoulder, holding him up, while the other slipped deep into his briefs to cup his balls. Kurt cried out at the brush of Noah's fingers, and they grasped his cock in a loose, easy grasp, finally beginning to stroke him. "And I know we're in a hurry, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you out of here without getting you off. You just tell me, faster, slower, harder - anything you want."

"Oh god." Kurt's eyes drifted down to rest on the dark, moist spot near the waistband of Noah's pants, then to the completely improbable sight of Noah's hand inside his underwear. "This - I want this, just -" Kurt felt the muscles of his ass clench hard, and he rolled his hips forward to feel the pressure. "A little faster - god, Noah..."

"Yeah, babe," said Noah, his voice rich with satisfaction and desire. "That's it. God, you're so hot, so fucking perfect, look at you... c'mon, babe..."

Kurt clutched at Noah's shoulders, his broad chest feeling so much more solid than he'd expected, firm and broad and slick with sweat. "Please," he begged.

"Anything," Noah said again, his eyes on Kurt's.

He strained forward, feeling the sensation building. "Just kiss me."

The touch of Noah's mouth set off a cascade of responses, and Kurt felt his body buck forward, once, before he gasped and came hard into Noah's hand.

As soon as Noah felt his body start to uncoil, he eased his hand out of Kurt's briefs and zipped him back up. Kurt's knees trembled as Noah lowered him down to sit on the floor. He grabbed a dented box of tissues from his dad's desk and knelt beside Kurt, watching his face closely as he wiped Kurt's come off his hand.

"You okay?" he asked, his voice soft. Kurt nodded, waiting for the thundering in his chest to subside. "That was... fuck. Kurt, I - I really didn't want it to be like that."

Kurt raised shaking hands and draped them against Noah's chest. "That... was hot."

Noah laughed, sounding relieved. "Yeah. Really hot, and - and, I promise, Kurt, it'll be better next time."

He felt his face break into a smile, just as the lights pulsed once, indicating the end of intermission. "Next time?" he echoed.

"Yeah," Noah said. "Fuck, yeah. Lots of next times." He leaned in and kissed him, gently now. "That sound okay to you?"

"Yes," Kurt said, without thinking. "Yes, it sounds - amazing, and - I should really get back to Blaine."

Noah grinned as he helped Kurt to his feet. Kurt could only imagine what he saw, and tried in vain to repair his hairstyle with his fingers. "You know there's no way he's not going to know what happened."

"Um. Yeah." Kurt felt his face heating, as the reality of what they'd done hit home. He followed Noah out into the hallway and back to the lobby, tucking in his shirt before they emerged. The usher raised an eyebrow at Noah as he passed.

"Don't you say one fucking word," Noah ordered, and the usher choked on a laugh, gesturing for Kurt to go down the aisle. Noah grabbed Kurt's hand. "I'll find you afterwards."

"Yeah," Kurt said, feeling the pressure of words unsaid on his lips. He decided he was done with waiting for the perfect moment. "I - I love you."

Noah sighed, ducking his head in embarrassment. Kurt thought for a moment he was going to take off, but then Noah tugged on his hand and pulled him into a tight hug. "I love you, too."

Kurt let himself rest in that embrace for just another moment before letting him go. Noah's face was rueful.

"You're gonna embarrass the crap out of me, aren't you?" he said.

"I won't," Kurt protested. "I just - I had to say it. Before the chance got away again. I won't - again."

Noah's cocky smile was so familiar, it almost made Kurt cry. "Hey, fuck that. You'd better." He squeezed Kurt's hand one more time, then headed down the dark aisle toward a seat on the rear left.

Kurt managed to find his way to his seat and settled in next to Blaine just as the orchestra was beginning 'Seasons of Love.'

Blaine looked concerned. "Is everything okay?"

"I - think so," said Kurt. He sat there in his seat, feeling the difference inside him, weighing the losses and gains, and coming up with a net positive. He smiled at Blaine. "Yeah. I think it's going to be."

Kurt expected the second half of RENT to be intensely sad, beginning with the death of Angel, but it was Roger and Mark singing the bitter words of 'Goodbye Love' that reduced him to tears again:

Mark's in love with his work
Mark hides in his work
From what? From facing your failure
Facing your loneliness
Facing the fact you live a lie
Yes, you live a lie, tell you why
You're always preaching not to be numb
When that's how you thrive
You pretend to create and observe
When you really detach from feeling alive

He felt Blaine reach for his hand several times, but holding it felt wrong now that Kurt knew so clearly whose hand he'd rather be holding. Blaine cried through the end, and accepted Kurt's damp handkerchief with thanks.

"Did it measure up?" he asked, when the show was over. "To the ones you'd seen before?"

"I wasn't sure at first," said Blaine, standing and stretching his legs, "but the second act blew me away. What about you? I mean - I know you haven't seen it before, but..." He gave Kurt a curious smile. "Did you... enjoy it?"

Kurt tried valiantly to ignore his heated cheeks. "It was so much better than I ever could have expected it to be."

"I'm glad." He walked with Kurt back to the lobby, pausing out of the flow of traffic. His eyes went to Noah, approaching them. "Um - would it be okay if I asked Noah to give you a ride home? It would save me a couple hours drive, and... I can call you tomorrow." Blaine watched Kurt closely. "If that would be all right with you."

Kurt turned to face Noah, who came to stand beside him. Noah took one cursory glance around them, then reached out and took Kurt's hand. "Hey," he said, his eyes on Blaine in a clear challenge.

Blaine looked startled, but as he saw the blush on Kurt's face, he offered them a tentative smile. "I was just asking Kurt if maybe he could get a ride home with you."

Noah nodded. "Yeah, that'd be fine."

Kurt nodded, too, not trusting his voice. Blaine took one more look at Kurt's hand holding Noah's, and stepped away, waving.

"Call me," he said. "Drive safe."

As soon as Blaine was out of sight, Kurt dropped his gaze to their joined hands, then back up to meet Noah's, smiling. Noah rolled his eyes.

"Fuck, babe," he said. "Yeah, I've been out here for years. Why the hell not."

While theater attendees milled around them, Noah pulled Kurt close, clasping him to his chest. Kurt rested his head just below Noah's shoulder, listening to his pulse, strong and steady.

"Still okay?" he heard Noah murmur, under the noise of the crowd.

"Still," he agreed, letting Noah feel his affirmative nod even if he couldn't hear him. "Please."

He knew being like this was for him - that Noah was giving him this, and it wouldn't be this way everywhere. But Kurt couldn't help but believe Noah was doing it for himself, at least a little. He could feel it in the way his shoulders relaxed, in the way Noah ran his hands over Kurt's back, and the little sigh he made. It gave Kurt hope. He lifted his face, and saw that Noah's was streaked with dried tears.

"Thank you," he said.

Noah nodded. He dropped a brief kiss to Kurt's cheek, and whispered, "Thank you, babe."

The crowd was starting to diminish. Kurt followed Noah back to his dad's office to lock the door and turn off the lights, then out the back past the stage door. Kurt was startled to discover Greg Evigan standing outside, smoking and talking with the woman who'd played Maureen.

"Hey, Noah," she said, giving Kurt an appraising glance. "You guys enjoy the show?"

"Best I've seen in a while," he replied. "How about you, babe?"

"Um." Kurt held out his program to Evigan, who took it. "Could I - get your autograph?"

Noah chuckled as he let Kurt into the passenger side of his cold truck. "Didn't know you were such a fan."

"It's more - to remember the occasion," Kurt said, but Noah was already laughing. He slammed his door shut, then leaned across the seat and gave Kurt an emphatic kiss. Kurt found himself shifting across the seat until he was pressed against Noah, already feeling his body's response. He smiled, wide-eyed and amazed.

"Definitely an occasion to remember," Noah agreed.

www. youtube watch?v=hG83GAGGfy4

Like a fall leaf from a tall tree landing on the grass
Like the white sand turns the clock in any hour glass
You're the reason I believe in something I don't know

You make it so, you make it so, you make it so easy
This letting go is so beautiful, cause you make it so easy, to fall so hard, to fall so hard

Like the ocean pulls the tide and just to hold me close
Like the rain pour in a rainstorm makes the flowers grow
You're the reason I believe in something I don't know

You make it so, you make it so, you make it so easy
This letting go is so beautiful, cause you make it so easy, to fall so hard, oh oh oh

You're the reason I believe in something I don't know

- Philip Phillips, "So Easy"