Creators: anxioussquirrel (words) & headbandxbowties (art and video)
Title from: Pretend by Lights
Pairings: Klaine, with elements of Hummelberry/Klaineberry
Warnings: If you squint, there are a few things we could warn about. But we won't, because there's no way not to spoil the story by doing so. It's nothing too hard, but if you are easily triggered or squicked, it might be best not to read this one. Or you can ask, if you don't mind being spoiled.
Status: complete in 11 parts, 35 000 words
Where: tumblr (link to the masterpost in the sidebar), plus LJ, FF and scarves&coffee. I am anxioussquirrel on all of these.
Tag to track on tumblr: fic: let's play pretend [check it out, all the pretty visual content will be there in one place, since I have no way to add or link it here]
Summary: Rachel and Kurt Hummelberry, new transfer students at McKinley High – unapproachable, mysterious, not to mention virtually inseparable. What is their story? What are they hiding? What will it take to get close enough to learn their secrets? Blaine Anderson is dying to know. But if he succeeds, won't he regret it?
A/N: Here we go! We're proud (and a little nervous) to present the project we've been creating together for the last six months. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on a story before, or cursed so much while at it, or edited anything quite so thoroughly (five separate rounds, guys. FIVE.) I hope you enjoy the effect.
A technical note: (Almost) every chapter contains bonus visual content (photosets, even vids) by Hachi – but FF doesn't allow images or links. So please come find us or the story on tumblr if you want to see the pretties. They are SO worth it. Also, I can't link to specific songs included in the story the way I do everywhere else - so I suggest finding them on YouTube as you read; it really makes the experience fuller.
Okay, I think we're ready. Enjoy the trip :)
CHAPTER 1: Mystery
Every high school feeds on it, depends on the steady influx of juicy news to liven up the dull process of learning. William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio is no different. Be it through the whispers in the corridors and over lunch, the rag of the school newspaper or Jacob Ben Israel's blog, gossip flows through the veins of the student body and keeps it alive.
This week – the first week of Blaine Anderson's junior year – the hottest topic is a couple of new students transferring in from LA. They are immediately fascinating because wow, LA, why would anyone move from LA to Lima? – but it's not the only thing that makes them gossip-worthy.
They're just... different.
Blaine has never cared much about the rumor mill, but by Friday even he can't escape the whispers that spread through the school in waves. The girls from his Glee club won't stop babbling about the new students, spinning more and more fantastic stories. Soon Blaine knows more than he's ever wanted to know about the two strangers, even though he suspects that most of it has nothing to do with facts.
And okay, his curiosity might be minutely peaked.
Their names are Rachel and Kurt Hummelberry. They are siblings – both in the junior class, so probably twins, though they don't look remotely alike. They moved into a neighborhood not far from Blaine's at the beginning of August, and yet no one had really seen them around until the first day of school.
Someone heard they've been homeschooled so far and this is their first time in a normal high school – or even a school in general. Someone else swears they overheard something about a witness protection program, which leads to wild guesses about mafia connections, or the siblings witnessing a murder – or participating in one, because why not, right? That would explain the strange vibe they give off. Something unsettling, some kind of distance they keep, which immediately earns them curious stares and, in some cases, mean comments.
"They don't even try to fit in," Mercedes points out as they all eat lunch at their usual Glee table. "I mean, their clothes? Come on, it's high school, not a country club dinner. I get the dresses, but suits or dress shirts every single day? Plus, have you ever seen them talking to anyone except each other?"
"Maybe they are Siamese twins," Brittany muses, not looking up from her plate. "I saw a program about it once."
"Brit, they're not actually joined at the hip." Artie scoffs.
"Well, no, but maybe they already got separated and can't get used to it. That must be really hard for them."
Indeed, Brittany's theory aside, Blaine has only ever seen the siblings together, be it in the halls or in classes. Even now they are sitting at a small table outside in the courtyard, alone. And it isn't because they have to, he knows. Everyone is curious about them; even the popular crowd would probably take them in, if only to learn about their LA life. But they answer in monosyllables when approached and reject any attempts at befriending without a second glance, as Santana reports with a derisive snort. It's unprecedented. Everyone wants to be popular, right?
Everyone but them, it seems.
A few days later, the rumors hit ridiculous levels.
The Hummelberrys are long-hidden illegitimate children of some LA celebrity. The press got wind of their existence so they were sent away.
They are having an incestuous love affair.
They are going to inherit some huge fortune if they make it to 21 without being assassinated – so of course they won't interact with mere mortals. Plus, it's not like they can trust anyone.
It's so crazy that Blaine starts to suspect Jacob Ben Israel is running some kind of contest for the most insane speculations.
And really, once he takes a moment to actually watch the siblings for a bit – he has a free period and they are seated conveniently close to him in the library – they look pretty normal to him. Just a couple of transfer kids who haven't adapted to their new school yet, nothing like the freaks the gossip is making them out to be.
Except... maybe there is something to it. Maybe they are some sort of magical creatures, in fact, because once Blaine starts looking... he just can't seem to stop. It's as if he's suddenly unable to control himself.
They are both attractive, he has to admit. It takes him by surprise, because while Rachel's prettiness is obvious, he's never actually looked at a boy before and thought Wow. He's stunning. But then, Kurt is unlike any other boy Blaine has ever met – graceful and perfectly put together, almost eerily beautiful. There's something ethereal about him – about both of them; with just a tiny bit of characterization they could be elves, or maybe faeries. He can't stop thinking how much more beautiful they would be if they smiled. They never do, or at least he'd never seen it.
Okay, enough, he decides an hour later, leaving the library. He's already given them enough time and attention. It's time to get them out of his mind before he gets as obsessed with them as half the school seems to be.
By next Friday Blaine can no longer fool himself – it's too late, he's already under their spell.
Every time the siblings pass him in the crowded corridors, he can't stop himself from watching them. And not just because Rachel has fantastic legs and those knee-highs she likes to wear are all kinds of sexy.
Something about the Hummelberrys pulls him in, demands his attention. So he keeps looking, whenever he can – wondering if he's crossed the line of being creepy already, hoping he hasn't. Promising himself he'd stop soon.
It's not that easy.
A month into the school year, the general consensus about the new kids is that whatever their story, they are stuck up, acting like they are better than everyone else in Lima. People no longer try to talk to them, and there's only an occasional stare when they do something strange, like walk the halls with their arms linked. It keeps the rumors alive, of course, their weird, constant closeness. But maybe that's just the LA way.
Blaine and his Glee club friends have bigger problems than unsociable new students, anyway.
Once again, there are too few of them for the competitions. The flyers have been hanging all over the school for days, they even performed Empire State Of Mind in the courtyard and yet no one has as much as asked about joining. They plow on, like they always do, but they need to get at least two more people to join soon, or they are doomed. If they don't compete this year – and get to Nationals, if not win – it will be the end of New Directions, once and for all. Principal Figgins made sure to warn them about that. Twice.
So when the Hummelberry siblings simply turn up in the choir room one day in late September, Mr. Schue almost forgets about an audition in his excitement. One look at the doubtful faces all around the room, however, and he asks timidly if they have maybe prepared something – anything – to show their skills. Of course, it's nothing but a formality. The club just needs two more members, if only to sway rhythmically in the background and move their lips in sync. And considering how little interest in any clubs or basic human interaction Rachel and Kurt have shown so far, even Blaine secretly doubts they can offer much more than that.
Blaine watches them – not feeling like a stalker for once, which is nice – as they talk to the band and settle on high stools next to each other. Of course they are going to sing together.
They look as graceful and elegant as always – Kurt in a silver suit, Rachel in a simple sailor-style blouse and a black skirt – but what sticks out to Blaine is how composed they are, how relaxed as they sit in front of their little audience, their postures a mirror reflection of each other, and wait for the music to start. There's no hint of nerves in their demeanor at all, which makes him think they are either complete novices who think highly of their abilities because no one has ever told them otherwise, or they really know what they're doing.
And then they start to sing and oh, do they know what they're doing.
It's a duet of Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy, which may just as well have been written for them because they give Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland a run for their money. Their voices are amazing – both strong and pure, effortlessly sliding over the notes and merging perfectly together. And they look so radiant when they sing. It's immediately obvious that they are no strangers to performing – and Blaine would know; he isn't either. Voices like theirs – it's more than just talent; it's years of practice, too.
It's absolutely clear to everyone that not only did they just find two new members for their Glee club. They may have actually found two new lead members for their Glee club, and Blaine knows he'll be happy to share the spotlight. Even Mercedes, their strongest female voice so far, looks stunned when Rachel belts out her high notes, and when Kurt effortlessly joins her there, everyone stares in shock because that just shouldn't be possible. Mr. Schue looks like he's going to cry with happiness.
They get accepted with open arms, of course. And if Blaine is ecstatic about it, well... he wants nothing but the best for the club, okay?
Days go by and the Hummelberrys are right there, among them, and up close, they don't seem quite that distant or strange anymore. They still always sit together and don't talk much, but it feels as if they lowered their defenses somehow. They smile sometimes (and yes, they are both so much more beautiful when they do), and watch the usual banter and drama with curious eyes, and Blaine's fascination that has only just begun to fade flares back to life with a vengeance.
A few weeks later it's hard to imagine New Directions without Rachel and Kurt anymore. Their singing contributions are most noticeable, of course, but their dancing isn't bad, either, and they even talk a little more, if only about the Glee club and school matters, staying extremely private beyond that. They prove that they're both just as spectacular solo as they are together. They no longer seem so aloof, at least not in the choir room, and most of the discomfort that the rest of the club initially felt around them is gone. They are just two more Glee kids, unique and different in their own ways. Somehow their quirks make them fit the group rather than alienate them further. After all, New Directions consists of people who stand out, one way or another.
They aren't automatically liked by everyone, of course – there's still something in them that keeps people from getting too close, and frankly, their attitude can be a little grating at times. Maybe it's how calm and certain of their abilities they are, or how they sometimes exchange those looks, as if they knew better, knew more; as if the choice of the Sectionals songs was such an unimportant detail in the grand scale of life. Which it is, obviously, but come on. Plus, Rachel in particular behaves like a diva sometimes, overenthusiastic and demanding, and it's really hard to like her then.
Still, Blaine's little crush persists and the funny thing is, he isn't even sure whom he's crushing on. It would be natural if he only felt attracted to Rachel, who is a beautiful girl, after all, smart and with a voice to die for – but it's not that easy.
It's like she alone does nothing for him – it's him, too; Kurt. It's them, together. This is new and strange, and another thing that is unsettling about the siblings, but Blaine chooses not to think about it too much. It isn't like he's going to do anything about it. They've never even talked apart from a few fleeting words during practice. He just... he likes to watch them. In the choir room and in class, and sometimes in the hallways. They are like pretty, exotic birds. And if they catch his eye and smile, sometimes – well, it doesn't mean anything.
But they do catch his eye and smile, every so often, and even without words, it feels nice. It feels like some kind of honor because they don't seem to do this for anyone else outside of the choir room. As time goes by, Blaine begins to wait for the opportunity to pass them by the lockers or sit nearby in the courtyard where they always eat their lunch, just to catch the glance of blue or brown of their irises.
It's on one of those occasions, three weeks after they joined Glee club, that he witnesses a somber scene.
The siblings are standing by Kurt's locker before morning classes as Blaine approaches, ready to pass them by, eager to see the twinkle of recognition in Rachel's eyes, the dimple in Kurt's cheek when he returns his smile, almost shyly. But they pay him no attention this time, lost in each other. Kurt holds a crying Rachel, hugs her tight, his eyes stormy and worried, and Blaine's blooming grin fades quickly, substituted by concern. He wants to ask what's wrong, offer help, but he has no idea if it's anything he can help with, or if they would even want him to intrude on their private moment.
He doesn't approach, in the end; doesn't feel like he has a right to. They seem lost in their own little world, even more so than usual. But as Blaine turns to go, Kurt catches his eye, and though he doesn't smile this time, there's something in the sad intensity of his look that shoots right through Blaine's heart, foreign and sharp.
Rachel is shaking in Kurt's arms, heaving sobs racking her whole body, and he can only hold her and try to calm her, and promise her everything will be alright even when he knows it's the biggest lie there is. But that's what she needs now, so he plays his role while biting the inside of his cheek, hard, because he can't think about himself now, about what it means for him. They're in it together, but he's the stronger one, he always has been.
Rachel hasn't said a word yet, she's been crying since they left their kitchen after the conversation with their parents – after the ultimatum – and for fuck's sake, did they have to talk about this before school? They have a math test first period, and a whole day of classes to get through, and now Rachel is a broken mess and there's not much Kurt can do about it.
He tries, anyway, pressing her closer and whispering in her ear, ignoring the stares of students milling around.
"Hey, shh. It's gonna be fine. I know it hurts; it hurts me too, but we'll survive. We always survive, Rach, you know that. We can still sing at home like we always have, we don't need Glee for it; it's not the same but we're fabulous anyway. Come on, we'll just tell Mr. Schue during lunch break, and then buy plenty of ice cream on our way home, and have a nice, indulgent evening. We'll do everything you like, I promise, I can even –"
She just cries harder, yet somehow succeeds to get a few words out, wet and raspy.
"Kurt, no, I just –"
Whatever she's trying to say, a new wave of tears cuts her off and Kurt is left racking his brain feverishly in search of another reason.
"Wait, are you worried they won't manage without us? Hey, they'll be fine. With Sam joining and the girl Puck brought last time, they'll be okay, there are enough people to compete now. I know it won't be the same without our voices but it's not like we can do anything, can we? Rach?"
She's looking at him now, shaking her head, her sobs slowly subsiding, and there's so much sorrow in her eyes, so much desperation that it scares him. It's too intense even for her, and Rachel is the very picture of intense on any given day, so that says a lot. She opens her mouth, hesitating, and Kurt has a sudden urge to cover his ears, afraid of what she's going to say.
He doesn't, of course.
"Kurt... I don't want to quit Glee."
"I know, me neither, but–"
"Let's not quit Glee. Please."
She's pleading. Begging, even; her eyes huge and wet. Kurt's heart seems to stop.
"But Rach, it would mean..."
"It would lose us a year. They won't change their mind."
"I know. But... I can't give up on that, on this feeling of being alive. When was the last time you've felt so alive, Kurt?"
He feels like crying. Like screaming, or maybe running away and hiding somewhere. But it wouldn't help, not even a bit, because he can't hide from himself, or from the fact that he knows she's right. He hasn't felt as real as he feels in that Glee club for years, not even when they... Just, not.
But is he ready to give up a year of his life for this?
From across the hall, he catches a flash of wide amber eyes, focused on them. Concerned. It's that boy again, that adorable Glee club boy. Blaine.
There's so little time, and so much Kurt wants to do.
Blaine pushes the scene out of his mind as he goes on with his day, squashes out the concern that tries to turn into worry. It doesn't help much though, and by the time Glee practice rolls around, he feels a bit desperate to know if the siblings are okay. He's not sure what he expects to find when he nearly stumbles through the door to the choir room in his hurry, but it's not this.
Rachel and Kurt are in their usual seats, talking quietly – no distress visible on their faces, no sign that anything out of the ordinary happened. Rachel even seems bubblier than usual, bouncing happily as she writes something in a pink-covered notebook. It's as if Blaine imagined the morning scene, made it all up in his head – which he's pretty sure he didn't.
He's still watching them when Kurt looks up, looks right at himand smiles, more open and warm than his usual reserved smile. The next instant Rachel glances between her brother and Blaine, something changing in her face, and then she's smiling at him brightly, too. Suddenly Blaine feels like he's caught, tangled in a net he doesn't even want to try and fight – their beautiful faces, their smiles, their eyes, different yet similarly intense, holding him captive.
It only lasts a few heartbeats before Mr. Schue enters the choir room, shooting new ideas right off the bat, and the siblings turn away. Still, Blaine's head is spinning, his heart full and pounding long afterward, and it's silly when nothing actually happened – nothing, not even a word exchanged between them.
It's just... he can't help but feel like something has just happened. Like something has been decided and it's only a matter of time before... what, he doesn't know. But he thinks he's ready to find out.