Blaine's first brush with death was an experience of his own mortality. He couldn't tell you if his life had flashed before his eyes—partly because he'd only been 14, and there wasn't much of his life to begin with. All he remembered in the days and weeks that passed was the blunt force of every hit, his screams, Jason's screams, and the mixed laughter and taunts of their would-be-murderers all twisting into a cacophony of terror, accompanied by the whistling swing and crack of each blow and broken bone.

His emotions felt like the sterile surroundings of his hospital room after he was moved from the ICU: blank, white walls echoing his own hollow insides. He was hurting; of course he was. But there was nothing to show of it on his face except the bruises and gashes from the asphalt parking lot that couldn't be covered by the gown like the rest of the marks on his small body. His expressions were empty, like the shock had never completely worn off. Nurses came and went, checking IVs and bringing him weird-tasting food on plastic trays. They never caught him crying.

It wasn't until Cooper managed to strangle out from the grasp of the shark of a TV director he'd been working with—a wannabe who was even more full of himself than Blaine's brother—that he finally felt his walls begin to come down. "The guy thinks he's Spielberg or something," Cooper had told him, "Thought he could just keep me grounded on set. …Eh," he'd shrugged, "I don't need some tiny credit as Civilian #3 anyway."

They brought Blaine home that same day. Doctor's orders would keep him on bed rest for a few more weeks to make sure that his ribs patched up completely, but there was no more need for him to stay at Westerville Memorial, and if Blaine had the choice between spending half a month in bed, he'd take his own over the hospital's any day.

There was a cake to celebrate his homecoming. Blaine didn't feel like it, but he gave his family hollow smiles and ate his slice as obligated, nodding along when his mother told him to call their cell phones if he needed anything before he watched his family head out his bedroom door, down the hall, down the stairs, away.

Blaine didn't call for anything; he kept to himself. But Cooper returned a few hours later, as night fell, with a Transformers DVD case in his hand. He made himself comfortable on Blaine's bed, taking care not to jostle his little brother too much in the process, and they watched robots tear each other to pieces for the next 140 minutes—their ogling of Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, respectively, occasionally interrupted by an adoring comment from Cooper about Michael Bay's directorial decisions.

After the credits rolled, Blaine turned to small talk—anything to make sure Cooper stayed put. He wasn't ready to be alone again, not now that he was tucked against his brother's side. So they talked about L.A. and Cooper's next auditions coming up; about Blaine moving out there with him after high school; about a hypothetical brothers-taking-on-the-world tale that they both knew was unlikely to happen in the real world. But it was easier to talk about a hypothetical future than the aching sting of the present. It was easier to acknowledge a fancy-free West Coast fantasy than the fact that Blaine could have died if the baseball-bat-wielding thugs hadn't run off to escape an approaching chaperone that night. If they'd had even ten more seconds—one swing at his temple—Blaine could have been lifeless in the back of the ambulance instead of just unconscious and broken.

They ran out of small talk, both falling into a somewhat-awkward silence as they avoided the whole herd of elephants in the room—the fading bruise under Blaine's left eye, the bandages under his shirt, wrapped around his torso, the orange prescription bottles on his nightstand next to a glass of water and a small stash of juice boxes.

Blaine's tears came without any real warning that Cooper could see. The first few gathered in his eyes, swimming until they were pushed out with a blink to slide down his cheeks. He breathed in a wet sniffle through his nose, and Cooper squeezed his shoulders with the arm he already had settled around Blaine's back.

"You're okay, little bro." It was a reminder to himself just as much as it was to Blaine. He was a little broken, but he was still whole. Still alive.

Blaine only managed a trembling, "I was so sc-scared, Coop," his voice rising in volume and in pitch as residual panic welled up in his gut. He sucked in a sobbing breath and his face screwed up into a painful grimace, one hand automatically darting to hold his side. But he couldn't stop crying now that he'd begun, and Cooper did his best to hold him without causing any more pain than his expanding lungs were already giving his bruised, cracked ribcage. "I thought I was g-gonna—"

"Shh," Cooper urged, saying again, "You're okay. You're okay."

Blaine's reunion with the concept of life's fragility came to him a few years later. His body had long since healed, along with many of his emotional scars. There were still days when he found himself remembering the terror of being a few short strides from death's doorstep, and there were nights when his dreams would play back memories that he thought he had all but blocked from his mind… but Blaine was stronger now.

He was still alive.

The sound of gunshots echoing through the McKinley hallways made him wonder if that was only a temporary thing.

In many ways, it was an entirely different experience, huddling in the corner against the piano. It was dark like the parking lot had been, but there was linoleum tile beneath him instead of asphalt and rocks, and there were no shouts or slurs, or clanging metal bats. In other ways, though, it was even worse. The unknown began eating away at him in an instant, and Blaine was terrified. He didn't know what the threat was, where the danger could come from, when—if—it was even coming at all.

"Are we even sure they were gunshots?" His frantic murmur was loud even to his own ears, and the chorus of a multiple-tiered "Shh!" fired back at him sounded like a shout, harsh and accusing: Be quiet or we're all going to die.

So Blaine fell silent, mouth clamped shut. He sent a text to his mom, fingers trembling over the screen of his phone. What was he supposed to say? I might not see you again? He settled with an alternative, "We think we heard a gunshot. We're on lockdown. I'll call you." and a too-cheery heart Emoji, knowing that an outright 'I love you' might seem too serious, enough to send her into a panic. A second message to Kurt followed after.

Then Blaine retreated as far away as he could without the ability to physically remove himself. His head sunk against his kneecaps, legs pulled to his chest and wrapped up in his own arms. He hardly dared to breathe, afraid that a too-loud exhale would somehow catch the ear of an unknown gunman prowling somewhere through his school.

He noticed soon after that others around him were crying. Blaine could hear them sniffling, wet and too noisy, while the metronome ticked like a heartbeat in the middle of the floor—a clock ticking down their remaining moments. His eyes were dry, however. Hidden behind his kneecaps, Blaine's face was drawn and tense. Fear churned in his stomach, but his face remained stoically empty aside from a few flashes of recognition and despair—looking up long enough to silently dismiss Artie's camera in his face before returning to the hiding space of his own body, shut down. Surviving. Alive, for the moment.

When the "All clear!" came, Blaine could finally breathe again. He was one of the last to get to his feet, pulling in a few lungfulls of air as he did so and heading straight into Sam's arms.

"It's over," Sam told him, voice a little shaky. Blaine nodded into his shoulder, tears finally welling up, and they piled together into an embrace of the whole choir room, everyone shaken but whole. Seconds passed while they all stood together—hands patting backs, heads falling onto shoulders, tears sliding to the floor—and when they finally pulled apart Blaine retreated again, leaning against the shelves as he pulled out his phone. He ignored the frantic texts on his lock screen, from his mother, Kurt, even Rachel and Finn, and dialed a number instead. It picked up in a single ring.

"Hi, Mommy…"

Understandably, Blaine couldn't sleep that night, and his parents stayed up with him. With hot chocolate from the kitchen, they gathered together on the couch in the den, Blaine tucked between them both, the warm mug steaming in his hands as he struggled to find words to express everything inside. It was hard. He wasn't used to talking about the heavy things. He'd hardly ever mentioned the events after the dance; his parents only knew the details from the police report. And it was just as difficult now, to say anything about the fear he'd felt that afternoon. Thankfully he didn't have to say much. His parents were there to fill the silence and keep his mind off of everything.

The third time Blaine Anderson encountered death was the first time it didn't come in the form of a narrow escape of his own. It was the first time that death won—the first time he really lost someone. Because Finn Hudson was gone, and there was no bringing him back. He had been breathing yesterday, but today his lungs were still. He simply wasn't alive anymore, and that was that.

The moment he heard the news had been one of the worst moments of his life, right up there with the beating and the break up, a three-way tie. The funeral itself was surreal. He went with his parents, in a black suit and tie. He watched the slideshow of pictures fading in and out—a baby, a toddler, a child, a freshman, a quarterback, a prom king, a high school graduate, a friend, brother, lover, leader—but Blaine couldn't bear to approach the casket on display. He lingered on the edges and turned away, eyes wide and unsure as he scanned over the tearful faces of people he knew and some he didn't. The grief was palpable in the air, and it made Blaine feel constricted.

He hugged Burt tightly, kissed Carole's cheek, and held Kurt against his chest, running a hand through the soft hair at the nape of his neck. When their fingers threaded together for a brief moment, he could feel the metal band he'd placed there not too long ago, warm from Kurt's skin. His parents followed, murmuring their condolences in turn, but Blaine couldn't manage to get the same words out. The lump in his throat gagged him into silence, but Kurt nodded with a watery smile when he mouthed, "Love you," and Blaine knew he understood.

Three weeks later, glee clubbers new and old returned to McKinley to honor and pay tribute to his life, to mourn together, and to sing—always to sing. Mr. Schuester invited all of them to express themselves through music, in whatever way they needed to, but as the days of the week each passed with solos from Mercedes, Puck, Sam, Artie, and Santana, Blaine found himself struggling to keep his footing.

He wanted to sing. He felt a little obliged to do so. If not for Finn, Blaine probably would've run back to Dalton, exiling himself and abandoning his friends. If not for Finn, Blaine might not be engaged right now. He knew very well that Finn had helped Kurt through some tough times before Blaine had been given a chance to meet his soulmate again. And if Finn hadn't been there, would the story have had a different ending?

Blaine wanted to sing, but he couldn't find the words. Every set of lyrics he looked up, every song he pored over each night on his laptop never seemed like enough. So he stayed silent, waiting for the sorrow to do its thing. He let the others belt out their pain and grief and love, not even opening his mouth to join in for backup vocals. He laid drumsticks at the memorial by Finn's old locker. He even tried praying again for the first time since he'd stopped going to Sunday school over a decade ago. But nothing helped ground him.

He was floating, detached from the world and stuck in a cycle of shock, disbelief, and grief that was too heavy to dig himself out of. Ms. Pillsbury was offering counseling in her office, he knew, and Blaine nearly paused outside her door a half dozen times before always moving on down the hallway. What would he even say if he visited her?

"I didn't know him nearly as well as a lot of people here, but I feel like the world's crumbling out from under my feet."

"I need to sing something, but there aren't any songs… There's nothing to sing."

"I don't understand."

"I almost died when I was 14, but… but I didn't. So why did this have to happen to Finn? Why couldn't he be okay, too?"

The only questions he had were the questions that had no answers, and he couldn't put Ms. Pillsbury on the spot like that. She was certainly grieving, too.

The end of the week arrived, and so did Rachel, returning to Lima with a heavy heart. She stood in the choir room, spoke of Finn, and then sang for him—to him—with all of her friends gathered together in witness. She weeped through every note, and the heartbreak was so real that Blaine was sure his own heart was echoing it, falling to pieces inside his chest. He was so engrossed that he hardly realized he was crying until Kurt's hand was on his own, curling their fingers together against Blaine's thigh in some attempt to bring him comfort.

He turned his head, watched Kurt's face until his fiancé met his gaze. It was a short, brief look, but Blaine tried to give him a reassuring smile, as he always did when Kurt was hurting. He always wanted Kurt to know that things would be okay, but his smile was distorted by a sorrowful expression, and when Kurt looked away, his composure only continued to slip so that by the time Rachel had finished her performance, Blaine was holding back sobs.

When Kurt took his hand and led him out of the choir room after Rachel's song, he followed in silence, wiping at his tears and trying to control his hitching breaths.

"Honey, talk to me," Kurt implored, voice full of nothing but concern, "You've been so quiet all week—sitting away from me."

Blaine was often a well-spoken individual. He knew how to lead, how to comfort others, how to give a good pep talk. But when it came to his feelings, he'd never been the most eloquent. Expressing love had become easier since he had fallen headfirst into an incredible romance, but death, loss, and grief never got any easier to deal with, nor any easier to speak of.

"I d-di-didn't," Blaine swallowed, tried again, "D-Didn't know what to s-say, Kurt. He was your b-brother— I… I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything to me, Blaine," Kurt said softly, brushing a thumb over his cheek to swipe another teardrop away.

"I just…" He sighed, shaking his head.

"You just what?"

"I feel like everyone else has… like... more of a right to miss him than me," Blaine said, "I—I don't know how to say it. Finn was your brother," he repeated weakly.

"He was your friend," Kurt reminded, voice breaking, "Honey, you've got every right to be hurting, you know that?"

Blaine shrugged, lips trembling a little. "I've just never been g-good at this." He gestured with his hands. "That— That everyone could just be gone. At any time, y'know? D-Death is just… hard. I don't know how to do this."

"You're always good at singing about things," Kurt murmured, gentle, not wanting to pressure him, "Maybe it could help?"

"I looked," he replied, "for songs. Couldn't find anything."

"We could look together, then. We could even find something to sing together, if you want. I—I haven't sung anything this week either, you know."

"The week's over, Kurt."

"But I'm not leaving until Sunday," he said, swallowing audibly, "Come over tomorrow? We can do it together... Have our own little memorial. And if you don't feel like singing, that's okay, too."

Blaine's lips drew tight into a line, holding back more tears. He nodded. "'kay."

"You don't have be silent about missing him, Blaine," Kurt whispered, squeezing his hands, "It's okay to let things out—even if you don't know exactly what to say. It's okay."

Blaine took a step forward, pushing himself against Kurt's chest. They held one another for a long minute, sharing comfort and sharing grief. It would take time for things to get easier, but he could breathe in, and he could let it out—even if he never found the right words.