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.

Hot in Here/Centerfold turns out to one of their most challenging Glee club numbers. Inspired by Finn's suggestion that they turn their 'Men of McKinley' calendar into their weekly Glee club assignment, it takes the better part of four days to perfect.

It's a challenging number not only because it requires a certain dexterity to be able to fold oneself in half without breaking anything, but it also requires stamina to handle the intensive choreography. A single run-through of the perfected routine isn't enough to leave anyone breathless, but after twelve such repetitions even the football players are sweating a little.

"Come on, guys, we have to get this right!" Sam coaches, blowing on his whistle to grab their attention. "Here, let's try it with Jake in the middle - "

And so on and so forth. Blaine is lucky enough that he's quickly eliminated from any of the heavy lifting, including picking up Kitty in a curling movement that requires lifting and lowering her no less than ten times in rapid succession. The head cheerleader seems nothing if not amused at the way that Jake and Ryder struggle to pick her up after the tenth run-through, panting a little by the time Sam calls a 'fifteen minute broga break.'

Blaine is no less relieved than the others to collapse onto the mats, artfully folding himself into the lotus position while Jake and Ryder strain to bend their legs at all. At least Joe seems to be getting the hang of it: he has both feet pressed against each other semi-successfully. Artie watches critically from the sidelines while Sam instructs them through the full routine; Blaine alone manages more than a third of the positions gracefully.

They're back on the mats in record time, Sam hitting play on the boombox as he walks them through the choreography again and again and again. It's workout heavy: Blaine notes the absence of all the showier moves typically reserved for performances as they practice lifts, trading off Cheerios (who, with a little bribery, agreed to work with them; all Blaine needed to do was approach Sugar with their dilemma to resolve it).

He feels a little excluded during that portion of the routine, watching the others struggle as he picks up a hula hoop and talks to Artie about ways that they can include him in the routine. Artie assures him that he doesn't mind sitting out for this one, and when Sam barks, "Focus!" he drops the hula hoop so quickly he almost smacks Artie in the face with it.

It isn't until Jake and Ryder have mastered the cradling movements that Sam finally shows them other workouts that he wants to incorporate into their number to make it more 'exciting.' Stretches, crunches, push-ups - all of it fits into the routine in some way. Sam demonstrates the proper form for each of the new maneuvers, Blaine pointedly averting his gaze from the long stretch of Sam's bare back and instead focusing on his own technique.

He's in the middle of doing a push-up when he feels a hand on his back.

Startled, he almost sprawls flat on the mat underneath him, holding himself rigidly for a moment to keep his balance. "Down," Sam orders, pushing on his back, and Blaine puffs a little as he obliges, feeling his arms strain to keep his balance as the extra weight pushes his elbows to a near perfect ninety degree angle. He waits, easing up once more when Sam loosens the pressure on his back. At another hard press, he lowers himself, determined to keep up with the routine.

He may not be fit for the heavier lifting, but he's always been athletic, engaging in as many non-weight-reliant sports as possible. Boxing is one of the few that McKinley offers outside of basketball and swimming (his height discouraged him from joining either of those; regardless of whether it would impair his performance on the team, he doesn't want to be involved in a sport where nearly everyone was at or over six feet tall). As a result, his upper body strength is on par with Artie's, and Sam's near-manic determination to perfect the routine isn't going to deter him.

He was slacking, he realizes, as he feels the burn more prominently in his arms after the first ten push-ups with Sam's aid. Sam keeps the pace almost excruciatingly slow, forcing Blaine to hold each position for ten seconds before letting him change. By the time Sam moves off, Blaine moves like a machine, fine-tuned and seasoned. It's been a while since he's really needed to do a large quantity of push-ups at one time, but that doesn't mean that he's forgotten the basics. Peripherally, he can see Jake and Ryder sprawled on the mats, puffing as they uncap water bottles and chug. Blaine doesn't let up until he feels a hand on his back again, instinctively holding position until Sam says simply, "Good."

As soon as the hand slides off, he sits back heavily on his heels, limbs tingling with the need to keep going, you've got this. It's the same feeling that he gets when he boxes for a lengthy period of time. He builds momentum, each punch springing out of him until he bounces on the rebound, channeling energy right back into the punching bag. It's a refreshing state of mind, so intently focused on one task that no outside forces can penetrate it, but returning to the present reminds him that he is human and the sheer exertion of the activity doesn't go unnoticed.

Watching Sam stride in front of them in the locker room, whistle still dangling from his neck, he tries to focus on what he's saying instead of the tantalizing expanse of skin exposed on his torso. It's not that he wants to look at Sam that way; he just can't help but notice that Sam is sort of insanely ripped. At least it helps when Sam breaks out into an impression or assumes his 'instructive shouting voice,' as Blaine has deemed it.

"Rule number one: waxing! Nobody wants to see a random nipple pube or worse, a back that looks like Chewbacca's ass - no offense, Joe - shave it off!"

"And who says you can't pack a little extra? I like baby socks. Just make sure they're clean so you don't get any athlete's foot on your junk."

At least it's hard to be distracted by a six pack when you're scrambling to keep a Cheerio from biting your head off. Blaine gets paired with one of the quieter ones on the team, which inevitably means she's one of the bitchier ones; he cringes internally as soon as Sam rattles off the pairings. It's purely based on size - again, Ryder, Jake, and Joe pick off the taller candidates - but he doesn't like the look that she gives him as soon as they're matched up. Sue Sylvester doesn't allow weaklings to wear the Cheerios' uniform, and his partner doesn't disappoint, 'accidentally' kneeing or kicking him no less than seven times before their work is done for the day.

Although tempted, he skips a shower and quietly exits the locker room at the end of their routines. It's not that he minds showering at McKinley, but he makes a point of showering at odd hours, after most of the jocks and regular school students have cleared out. There's nothing that screams 'predatory gay' louder than accidentally spotting someone else showering as a gay man. Of course, he knows that none of the Glee club guys would have minded if he had; it isn't like they suspect that he would ever crush on any of them.

And he wouldn't. Just ...

Sam is different. Sam is nice and friendly in a way that he isn't used to encountering with other men that aren't strictly gay or, in Dalton's case, forced to be tolerant. It isn't that Sam makes him feel extraordinarily special or loved or singled out, but he talks to him, trusts him, respects him in a way that he isn't used to hearing outside of Dalton. Not to mention the casual touches, there and gone before Blaine can possibly misinterpret them. He knows that Sam is straight, he knows that Sam can never love him back and the fact that he has a crush on him jeopardizes their friendship, but he can't help himself.

He takes a scalding shower that night, trying to scrub off every last trace of McKinley and hair gel and just separate everything into neatly divided categories. Sam is straight. Sam cannot love him that way. Loving him that way in any respect is wrong, and he needs to stop.

He needs to stop.

He strides into Glee club the next morning sleepless and cranky, a bit of concealer hiding the worst of the outward damage under his eyes. With his hair tamped down in its gelled dome and his clothes chosen for comfort, he doesn't attract any unwanted attention. Finn expounds upon his ideas briefly before turning things over to Tina, who explains that she and the rest of the former 'Too Young to be Bitter' club will set up the photo shoot in the locker room for Thursday. She scurries off to her seat one row back from Blaine as soon as she's done, Finn stepping back up to the plate to ask if any of them have started on their assignment.

Blaine's grateful that Sam defers until tomorrow to perform, stating that they need the extra day to make sure everything runs smoothly. Dreading the announcement that they'll be meeting after school yet again, he slouches out of the choir room, his satchel slung over one shoulder.

Classes drag. Monday mornings were never his favorite, but at least lunch brings along a welcome reprieve in the form of a heated existential debate between Sugar and Joe. Munching on a pack of baby carrots absentmindedly, Blaine watches the duo argue. He loses the track of the conversation after Joe starts reciting the history of some fifth century leader or another, almost dozing off by the time Tina slides a stack of papers in front of him.

"What are these?" he asks, setting down a half-eaten carrot as he flips through the fliers, advertising the Cheerios' donation box where particularly generous students, parents, and alumni of McKinley could donate in order to raise money for the Cheerios' new uniforms.

(If there was one thing Sue Sylvester was good at, it was not spending her own money.)

"Coach Sylvester says we have to post these around the school for stealing her Cheerios," she explains, sighing. "And we have to sit at the donation table for at least an hour after school this week to collect the funds."

Blaine frowns. "I can't, I have - "

"Student council, speech and debate, Zombie Survival club, prom committee, and Cheerios' practice," Tina finishes. Blaine stares at her, agape. "I saw your schedule this morning," she elaborates, nodding at his satchel. "Not to mention you dozed off during Calc II this morning."

Blaine's ears flush. "Please don't tell me Mr. Becker noticed."

"He didn't."

Blaine relaxes a little, flipping through the stack of papers. Frowning, he asks, "How is this going to elicit any donations?"

"Bribery," Tina explains succinctly, adding in a quieter voice, "Everyone knows that Coach Sylvester can basically terrify any grade out of a teacher. Why do you think Stoner Brett made it past sophomore year?"

"Because of legal restrictions?"

Tina shakes her head. "Eventually, those would have kicked in and he would have graduated, but a lot of the athletes around here benefit from a grade boost to maintain their scholarships."

"That's cheating," Blaine says flatly.

Tina shrugs. "It's tradition. Only half of the Cheerios would have graduated last year if it wasn't for her intervention." Reaching out to scoop up the papers, she adds, "This isn't just about us using her Cheerios, Blaine. She's threatened to push for a lawsuit against the Men of McKinley calendar altogether. We only have three weeks to raise money for the regionals' trip."

Blaine frowns, saying nothing. He's barely touched his tray, but suddenly his appetite is gone, his mouth dry as he says, "All right. So, how are we supposed to sit in at the donation box if I'm busy?"

"The Too Young to Be Bitter club has agreed to handle that," she assures. "On one condition."

Which is why Blaine Anderson finds himself sitting in on the final Too Young to be Bitter club meeting, temporarily restored for the occasion, during his study hall, acting as the first and only male member. As a result, he acts as a soundboard for their prom proposal ideas, nodding along and promising to forward the notes that he takes on to the prom committee. Once they're satisfied, they switch over to boy-talk, something that Blaine pointedly zones out by letting Sugar paint his nails.

"Dude, why are your nails - "

"Just don't," Blaine says softly, sliding onto the bench next to Artie later that day, folding his hands neatly on his leg.

Sam stares at him for another moment, clearly baffled, but he doesn't push the issue, instead clasping his hands together determinedly. "All right, since our performance is tomorrow, I want everyone to be in the best shape possible. That means tanning."

Jake frowns. "I don't - "

"Thankfully, I've enlisted the Cheerios to help out," Sam bulldozers, gesturing at the stalls. "Everyone, pick a stall and take those shirts off. Oh, and don't forget one of these fancy safety goggles - you do not want to know what it feels like to get tanning spray in your eye."

Blaine flinches at the thought. Rock salt may have been worse, but he has no desire to compare them more thoroughly. Snapping the goggles into place, he blinks, reorienting himself in the tepia-colored world.

Stumbling into the free stall, he tugs off his shirt, grateful that it's too hard to see out of the goggles to make out anything more than his own stall and the Cheerio in front of him. She spritzes his chest with the tanning spray once experimentally; he flinches in surprise, straightening his shoulders and throwing out his chest a little when she glares at him. Letting her hose him down to the waist and then skipping over his gym shorts to his legs, he turns so she can get his back, spreading out an even coating.

It looks weird if a person just has - tan - hands!

He almost pulls off his goggles then and tells her to stop, but he forces himself to stay still, jauntily pointing at his face when she holds up the spray in warning. He scrunches his nose up a little as she obliges, gratefully pulling off the goggles once they're done. "I really don't get the point of that," Jake is saying, poking his own bare stomach thoughtfully while Ryder squints at him, adding, "I think you look a little different."

"Do I?"

"Guys, focus!" Everyone turns instinctively to look at Sam, Blaine's mouth watering a little involuntarily at the sight. As much as he tries to berate himself, he can't help but stare, frowning a little when he notices how tense he seems. Unusually so. His voice seems more strained than usual, too, he notes, trying to focus on the topic of his speech rather than his abs. It's impossible, and he distracts himself by staring at the opposite wall and counting down from a hundred. It isn't until the others shuffle forward that he follows, keeping his expression deliberately blank as he eyes the scale in front of him.

He doesn't offer a protest when it comes his turn to step onto it, keenly aware of Sam's gaze at his back. He makes a slightly pleased sound in spite of himself when he realizes that he's lost a couple pounds: he'd been meaning to trim those off ever since he regained them over the holidays. Stepping off the scale and waiting for Sam's next order, he's surprised to find him standing almost right next to him, his expression haggard. For one moment, it seems, he's let into it, allowed to see the exhaustion and pain and something that Sam is suppressing, but then Sam's all bright smiles and congratulatory remarks and explanations that they are finally ready for the Men of McKinley calendar.

Blaine doesn't stop thinking about it, though, even going so far as to write out Are you okay? before deleting the text before it can send. He spends a good hour scrubbing the light blue nail polish off his nails as he tries to think of a suitable response, distracted as he works on his various pet projects, unable to focus on any one task. He's startled in a sea of papers at four in the morning when his phone vibrates next to him, scrambling to look at the text. Don't forget: meeting in the lockers before Glee club. - SE

Frowning, he tucks the phone next to him and reaches over to re-organize the papers, falling asleep an hour later, restless and worried.

Sam looks normal when he sidles into the locker room the next morning, though, his entire posture radiating enthusiasm. "Let's get this party started!" is all he says once they're ready, leading them back to the choir room.

It goes as well as Blaine could hope for, a thin sheet of sweat coating his back by the time the last note in Hot in Here finishes. His arms tremble a little as he tries to keep from just falling back on his butt on the mats, forcing himself to hop up to his feet instead, standing with the rest of the guys as the rest of the Glee club applauds loudly. "That was amazing, guys!" Finn crows, getting up to clap Sam on the back. "We are going to make so much money!"

Blaine lets out a satisfied breath, thinking that maybe if they just recorded their number and sold that, it would raise enough money for the trip.

The photo shoot itself is a cake walk by comparison. Blaine might not be the fittest or tallest Glee club member, but he's not ashamed of his body, either. Though he's still not so sure about the whole selling himself out deal, a year of experience has given him a new insight both into Sam's personal experiences with stripping as well as times when necessity outweighs personal convictions. At least this goes to a good cause, he reminds himself, draping a white robe around himself as he waits for Jake to finish his photo shoot. Even Tina seems to be enjoying herself, although that might be more because Finn isn't present to steal the mic or hand it off to someone else like Santana.

He startles when Tina asks if any of the other guys want to hop into Sam's picture, almost feeling the tension in the room escalate. Sam's been edgy all week, avoiding student council meetings (in spite of multiple phone calls on Blaine's part asking him to drop by if he can or at least respond to his texts) and only showing up late for Glee club the other day. He looked terrible, hunched and sullen, radiating discontentment. There wasn't anything about him that Blaine could pinpoint as the root cause of it all, not a single hair out of place, but he could feel the tension surrounding him, shutting out everyone else without saying a word. He was the first one out of the choir room when the bell rang, all but sprinting out the door. No one else seemed to notice, though, piquing Blaine's suspicion.

Something was up. What, he didn't know.

Until Tina asked if any of the other guys wanted to step in and join Sam in his photo.

Blaine watches Sam's shoulders tense, his entire body going rigid even as Tina singles him out. He lifts an eyebrow at her, trying to silently dissuade her from it - Tina, honey, no - but she doesn't listen, Joe piping in that he'll jump in beside him.

And Sam snaps.

"No offense, Joe, but I don't really think you wanna be in a shot next to me. My washboard's going to make you look like a bloated white Bob Marley."

To Joe's credit, he doesn't flinch, expression flat as he replies in an almost gently accusatory tone, "I'm God's baby, dude."

Undeterred - and gaining steam - Sam bulldozers, "Look, the reality is that we probably should have just done a Sam Evans' calendar."

Blaine stares at him. After all the work, after all the effort - that was what he had to say about it?

"Yes, and every month we could see you dressed as a different brand of jerk-wad," Artie cuts in before he can ask what the hell happened to him.

Sam ignores the jibe, glaring at his own arm as he barks, "Guys, we waited too long, I lost my puff, I need five minutes."

He's on the move before anyone can stop him, Tina spreading both arms in an exasperated I can't deal with this gesture. Blaine doesn't pay attention to any of them, frustration and vexation rising as he follows Sam further into the locker room. A door clangs shut and Blaine pushes it open, rounding the corner and staring at Sam.

"Let's go, you got this, you got this -"

"You're kind of out of control," Blaine says bluntly.

"Yeah, well, haters gonna hate."

Something in Blaine snaps, some patience or willingness to listen placidly from a corner, something, because the next thing he knows he's all but spitting, "Will you please stop lifting? This isn't who you are, Sam, you're not some body-obsessed muscle head."

He's put up with too much from Finn last year to handle this now. Not when they were finally cool with each other. Especially not when he thought Sam was a really great guy and now he's on some perverted mission to tear it all down, become the biggest jerk that he can.

This isn't who you are.

"You don't know what it's like," Sam says, and Blaine feels a tentative sort of relief crept into him as the old Sam, the one he knows resurfaces, carefully masked behind his new indifference to others. "You can sing and dance and you kick butt in school and you're all charming and everything." Blaine wants to tell him that Sam can be all of those things - all of those things and more - but Sam's plowing ahead, heedless. "I have to announce my presence with authority the second I walk into a room. People have to notice me or else they never will." Then, bitterly: "People laugh at my impressions because how I look already has them on board."

Blaine frowns. "Do you really believe that?"

"It's just a fact."

Sam sits down heavily on the opposite side of the bench, straddling it. "If you want to make it in this world, you have to be special."

"But you are special," Blaine insists quietly, sitting down across from him. "Even without your body."

"No, I'm not, man." He looks more ragged than Blaine's ever seen him then, beaten and haggard and worn. "It's - it's all I have. I'm exhausted, watching what I eat all the time. My two-a-day workouts - "

"Let it go," Blaine urges, wanting to reach out and squeeze his shoulder like Sam's done for him a dozen times, to make him see that it's okay. No matter how bad things seem, there's something brighter around the corner, and as long as they're still alive they still have a chance to change. And Sam needs that - desperately. He needs to know that it's okay. "Have a burger every now and then, eat a bag of . . . Cheetos. Skip your workouts, sleep in a little. Your body isn't gonna change. And even if you have . . . seven percent body fat, you're gonna see that all of us are still gonna love you." He waits, letting that sink in a little, until at last he finishes quietly, "And we're gonna laugh at your impressions."

Sam looks at him, his expression hard to read until at last he inclines his head in a tiny nod.

Blaine gets up without another word, padding back into the main area of the locker room and gently explaining that they're going to have to postpone the rest of the photo shoot. When Tina argues that they don't have time, he pulls her aside and quietly reasons with her, explaining that yes, they can work in two more lousy pictures another day. To appease her, he even takes a couple shots with Joe as August before they move on to the rest of the calendar, finishing up the set. It takes a good hour to dissemble the photo area enough that the lockers are accessible for general student use, but it's worth it, knowing that they're slowly making progress.

Blaine doesn't need to push open the door after they're finished and walk into the adjacent locker room to know that Sam's gone. He's relieved, in a way, knowing that maybe he actually went home and just took a break. Or maybe he sat there and continued to lift weights. Blaine doesn't know, but he quietly shuts the door behind him and idles off down the hallway in search of Ms. Pillsbury's office.

He finds it and taps on the doorjamb once, offering a small smile. "Hi. Am I interrupting anything?"

She blinks, looking briefly like a deer in headlights before hurriedly clearing off her desk a little, assuring, "No, not at all, come in - is there something I can help you with?"

"It's for a friend, actually," Blaine says, settling into one of the chairs across from her. "Sam Evans?"

"He's not having long distance relationship problems, too, is he?" Ms. Pillsbury asks.

"Uh, no. Not that I know of." Blaine frowns, considering that, before shaking his head. "He . . . we found out that he failed his SATs," he explains quietly. "Is there . . . anything you can do?"

Ms. Pillsbury brightens. "You've come to the right place," she says, already reaching back to rummage through her drawers.

It doesn't take long before she's compiled a fairly substantial pile of schools that accept students without SAT scores. Blaine nods along, letting her ramble and asking if she wouldn't mind holding the folders for him and tell Sam what she just told him tomorrow. "Of course," she assures, and he relaxes a little, eventually shouldering his satchel and departing with a last thank you.

He doesn't know if it'll work - he doesn't know what Sam needs - but he knows that he has to try. Because Sam was willing to give it two hundred percent to make their Men of McKinley calendar work, and he needs someone who will help him, too.

And when Sam pulls him into a tight, almost rib-crushing hug that Friday afternoon with a single, "Thanks, bro," he knows that they've made progress.

"You're welcome," is all he says, hugging him back, a small smile curling his lips.

You deserve the best. You're worth the best. Please don't ever forget that.


Author's Notes: I truly love Blam.

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