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.

"Do you really think this is going to work?"

Blaine's voice was skeptical, but Santana's expression remained neutral as she looked at him, eyeing him from head to toe before dismissing him without a word. "We're not backing out now," she said simply, advancing into the parking garage and wordlessly beckoning him to follow.

"No, I know," he assured, hurrying to keep up with her as she descended, winding around one of the curves that led to a deeper level. "I just think - " He stilled when he heard Sebastian's voice, cool and undaunted, coming from somewhere overhead. He couldn't make out the words, but he could easily distinguish the press of a dozen footsteps, obviously close on his heels as laughter resonated from above. It made his stomach twist to think that he was acting against the Warblers. The Warblers were his friends. There had to be a better way to resolve this, even with Sebastian's remarks ringing in his ears.

Oh, hey, Kurt. I didn't recognize you. You were wearing boy clothes today.

Blaine's shoulders tensed at the memory, at how Kurt's face had fallen before settling into a derisive sneer. He hated that Sebastian could change Kurt's mood so easily. Worse, he was frustrated with himself that he hadn't done anything about it. It had been easy to tell Sandy Ryerson off when he had criticized the New Directions' Night of Neglect concert, Karofsky's insults had never intimidated him, and even Santana's jibes at his relationship with Kurt hadn't put him off in the slightest. Why he had fallen silent and stupid in front of Sebastian, he didn't know, but he could tell by Kurt's cold silence afterward that he wasn't happy and it was Blaine's fault.

So, even more than reclaiming their honor (as Puck put it), the sing-off was about showing Kurt whose side he was on. It didn't hurt that championing that particular cause also meant that he was supporting the New Directions. Once a Warbler, always a Warbler, he thought ruefully, almost walking into Santana's back as she came to an abrupt halt.

The New Directions had been following at a discreet distance, and Blaine was suddenly grateful that, even in the silence and darkness, he wasn't alone. More importantly, he wasn't standing against them, he was standing with the New Directions. He still liked the Warblers, and allying against them was off-putting; he wanted to catch up to them and join in on their jokes, their plans, their set lists. It ached in him, memories of lounging about in one of the common rooms so raw that he almost conceded and turned in his leather jacket then. Leather was cool and unyielding, but his blazer would be warm once he put it on, comfortable enough to lie around in but still solid enough to make him feel important. Useful.

Still. He had made his choice. And Sebastian was part of the Warblers now - Captain of the Warblers, to hear him tell it, even if Blaine doubted the Warblers would ever let themselves fall so far from their equanimity under the council's guidance to allow one person to take over - which made it inherently wrong for him to support them. Not until they conceded and gave the New Directions what was theirs. Michael was theirs, and Blaine knew enough about the New Directions' history to know that they really wouldn't give up without a fight.

So, better to sing it out and admit to it than let the hurt and betrayal fester. Blaine didn't want them to be at odds: he just wanted to make Kurt happy, and the New Directions happy, and, if he could swing it, the Warblers happy, too.


He noticed that Santana had drifted back towards one of the pillars while he surveyed the parking lot, waiting for the Warblers to appear, and he mirrored her, leaning back against the same concrete and listening to the footsteps descending. They were silent now, anticipation heavy in the air. Blaine could hear his own breaths amid the silence, soft, barely there, curious and worried at once.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for them to appear, and he was grateful that Santana took the lead, grabbing his sleeve and tugging him along to indicate that the time had come. Now or never, he thought, tossing his hood over his head and steeling himself as the Warblers squared off with them.

"Well. We're here," Sebastian announced, deadpan. Blaine folded his arms across his chest so he wouldn't break character; all he wanted to do was greet the Warblers properly and introduce them to the New Directions. But that wasn't what they were here for. Once a Warbler, always a Warbler.

"We got something to settle," Blaine said, matching Sebastian's tone. "Both of us want to use M.J. but only one can."

Almost before he was finished, Santana cut in with a biting, "We're having a Jackson-off, Nick at Nite. Winner gets the King of Pop for regionals."

"What, us against . . . the two of you? You really think you're that bad? Is that what they teach you at that little public school of yours?"

Sebastian's voice was heavy with contempt, his lips wide in a smile that never touched his eyes. Santana didn't even flinch, and Blaine felt comforted by the awareness that the rest of the New Directions were just around the corner, waiting. It was just a game. A little intimidation was necessary, to prove both their seriousness as well as their investment in the outcome. It was just a game to see who got to perform Michael Jackson at regionals. That was all.

"It's time to see who's bad," Blaine retorted quietly, narrowing his eyes.

As if on cue, Santana snapped her fingers, summoning the rest of the New Directions from the shadows. Blaine noticed Sebastian's eyebrows twitch upward: out of vexation or surprise, he couldn't tell. Either way, he let a small, triumphant smile curl his lips as they emerged, surrounding Santana and him as if they'd never been anywhere but.

There was silence for a moment, and in it, he knew half a beat before the Warblers began exactly what was going to happen. Bracing himself for it, he met Sebastian's taunting gaze and waited, surprised when Artie jumped in on the lead. Relieved to have their attention directed elsewhere, Blaine fell back into the folds of the New Directions, doing his best to keep up with the movement if not the exact choreography.

It felt natural to push Artie along when they moved to another section of the garage, joining him in harmony to add strength to their vocals. Letting himself get lost in the performance, he put his hand on one of the Warbler's shoulders before wheeling away, not even sure where he was going but grateful that Tina stood behind Artie as Sebastian advanced, looking menacing before another Warbler tugged his arm and pulled him away. He didn't have time to think about that - how serious the Warblers looked versus how relaxed, almost comical the New Directions seemed by comparison - before instinct kicked in and he sang.

He wasn't even fully aware of his purpose, then, outside the song, following the New Directions' lead as he rose to meet the chorus, putting every ounce of determination that he had in him as he hit it.

It felt good, exhilarating, liberating all in one, to finally sing with the New Directions, with the Warblers, instead of belting out a solo alone on a stage.

He couldn't deny the relief that surged through him when Santana took over for the chorus: she killed it. Blaine knew before the song was halfway over that the New Directions would win. There was no way that the Warblers, with an all-male vocalist range, could keep up with the diversity and creativity that the New Directions had.

So he relaxed, too, bopping around and even smiling when Kurt did a little jig as he scurried after Puck, keeping the chain unbroken.

That was until he saw the Warblers' faces, tense and alert, neither smiling nor frowning but clearly not as engaged. Or, rather, more engaged, as if every step, every gesture needed to be perfect. They weren't like that - the Warblers were always fairly easygoing, and Blaine knew that if it wasn't for the song choice they would be grinning and teasing the New Directions already, boyish and cocky. It would take a few numbers before they would concede - because they would, Blaine knew them - but it wasn't like this was the end-all, be-all. It was just one song, the first song at that, and the Warblers had never been anything but good sports.

So it disconcerted him to see them so grave, utterly unaffected by the jaunty, almost teasing attitude that the New Directions were displaying underneath their falsely angry demeanor. Or maybe they were picking up on outward appearances too well and mimicking them. It wasn't the first time the Warblers had seen the New Directions perform, but this wasn't a show choir competition; maybe it would just take a little more time for them to warm up to the idea before their inevitable surrender.

Accepting that, Blaine fell in neatly after Artie with his riffs, handing the mantle over to Santana for the higher notes and focusing on keeping up with the rest of the group instead. It was easy, and he saw some of the Warblers relax into their roles a little, mock-fighting with the New Directions as they spun and sang and worked their way toward the crescendo.

Santana held the lead and Blaine let her, knowing Artie would do the same, as the Warblers closed in and the New Directions formed a tight net, ready to meet them in a single unbroken line. Blaine saw a flash of movement, out of place and alarming, as one of the Warblers ducked aside, removing himself from the group to grab a paper bag. Falling back as one of the Warblers lunged at him, keeping time with the movements, Blaine lost sight of the distraction until, abruptly, Sebastian stood at the front of the Warblers, slushy cup already in hand as every nerve ending in Blaine's body started screaming because no.

Kurt's smile didn't have time to fall. He barely registered the slushy cup at all. There was a fraction of a second where they stood utterly still, and then Blaine lunged, planting a hand on Kurt's ribs and pushing him back just as the slushy smashed into his face.

His shoulder hit the ground hard, his breath leaving him in a ragged scream. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, his thoughts running in circles because his face his face his face his eyes his eyes oh God his eyes.

Everything burned. His hands felt raw as he scrubbed at his own skin, desperate to get every last trace of slushy off his face, out of his eyes, and vaguely he was aware of Kurt crouched at his side, his fingers shaking as he clutched at Blaine's hip and shoulder.

"Honey? What's wrong?"

Blaine let out a noise that might have been a sob as he clutched at his face, trying not to breathe, not to blink, not to do anything that would make the pain worse. He could hear footsteps moving away, but it came from a distance, muffled by the white noise in his ears. His hands were burning, shaking as he tried to rub slushy mix out of his eyes, and Kurt was there but he could barely feel the cool brush of fingers against the raw, searing pain in his eyes, against his cheeks his brow his forehead, everywhere.

His eyes hurt so much that even breathing was an effort, grinding his palms against his face as though he could stop the burning, aching, searing pain through sheer will power. It wasn't working, his whines turning high-pitched with panic, his fingers shaking so hard he was almost afraid he would gouge out his own eyes.

Anything. Anything to stop the stabbing pain that made his body curl in tighter on itself and his breath come short, that made rational thinking impossible as he clutched blindly at his own face.

He couldn't help but let out a terrified scream when someone tried to pull his hands away from his face. The burning flared and he sobbed helplessly as he scraped at his eyelids, desperate to end the agony. He didn't know where it was coming from, why it was there, but he had to stop it. He had to, he had to, he had to -

"I know, honey, I know," Kurt was saying, his voice thin and high. He was rubbing at Blaine's shoulder and trying to coax him off the ground but Blaine couldn't, he couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but try to keep from tearing himself apart. All he wanted was to make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.

"Let me see," Kurt urged, and Blaine tried to tell him without words that it was too much, that he couldn't, but Kurt's hands were gentle and insistent and he couldn't resist them, gasping against Kurt's knee while Kurt let out a soft sound above him, a strangled cry that made everything writhing in Blaine's stomach tighten because if Kurt thought it was bad, it was bad. Very bad.

He didn't know what happened, then - who was talking, what was happening - but Kurt's hand stroked his hip and Blaine tried to focus on that, tried to keep his breathing under control so he could understand why everything hurt so much.

Two strong hands that weren't Kurt's slid underneath his arms and he let out a startled scream as they tried to pull him away from him. Every movement hurt - his shoulder ached from hitting the concrete and the cold had begun to seep through the leather jacket, making him shiver - but worse than it all was the inexorable pull away from his boyfriend, the one and only person he trusted in the world to make the pain go away.

Kurt could protect him, Kurt would make it go away, he knew, in that inexplicable little corner of his heart that believed Kurt could protect him from anything. But Kurt was gone and he couldn't see anything, he couldn't see, and he was afraid, the voices in the background too loud and utterly indecipherable. "Blaine, Blaine, it's okay," Kurt said, Kurt, and Blaine all but fell into his arms, clinging to him.

His eyes were throbbing and the pain had settled into a raw burn that made him let out a startled, halting cry every time he moved. Kurt closed his arms around him tightly, holding him up, and Blaine sagged against him, pressing his hands to his eyes and trusting him to keep them safe.

There were others' hands, though, and he didn't know who they belonged to, couldn't hear their voices as he buried his face in his own hands and tried not to bleed on Kurt's jacket because it felt like he was bleeding, hot, painful tears that burned on the way down.

Kurt lead him across the pavement and the voices decreased in number if not intensity, chattering ceaselessly to one another. Blaine struggled to keep track of anything outside the pain and the ache and the slow but steady descent into panic, nerves frayed to the extreme. He felt like he was balanced on a wire, ready to tip either way, animalistic with pain or calm and collected, aware.

In the end, he hunched over Kurt's knees, huddling against his chest and pressing his cheek against it, breathing slowly, raggedly, and trying not to sob.

. o .

Blaine was whining under his breath, writhing a little in a futile attempt to get more comfortable as Santana drove.

"How much longer?" Kurt demanded, rubbing Blaine's back in slow, soothing circles. His hands were shaking, but he didn't think Blaine noticed, curled up against him and trembling violently whenever they hit a bump in the road or took a curve hard.

It had taken little persuasion for Santana to get behind the wheel of Kurt's car - Kurt's baby, and yet he couldn't care less if she totaled it as long as she got to them to the hospital now - but it still surprised Kurt that she had wanted to drive at all. Maybe she cared more about Blaine than she had let on; or maybe she just reacted in a crisis where others did not, Rachel's face pale and her knuckles white, Artie gaping and silent, Finn talking to Rachel in a low, soothing tone while casting anxious looks at him and Blaine all the while as Mike and Puck discussed plans for revenge.

Kurt had been frozen, statuesque at Blaine's side, the tiny tremors in his hands hardly noticeable as he ran them up and down Blaine's back, his hip, his shoulder, his face, trying desperately to soothe, to comfort, to know what was wrong.

Slushies weren't supposed to hurt. Not like this. They stung and left a bitter taste in his mouth, but they weren't supposed to hurt.

Kurt had had to swallow back the tears threatening to spill over before he was able to help at all, pulling Blaine's hands away from his face and clamping his jaw shut so he wouldn't cry out at the red, raw look around his eyes. His cheeks looked burned, and his eyes -

Kurt didn't know what was in the slushy. But he knew in that moment that he would do anything and everything to make Sebastian pay for what he had done.

As it was, Kurt slipped back into the present when Blaine shivered against him, trying to crawl into his lap even though the logistics were difficult to manage in the back seat of a Navigator. Still, Kurt didn't mind, holding him as close as he could and pressing his own cheek against Blaine's slushy-soaked hair and rocking him a little, swaying with the rhythm of his own forced calm.

It's okay. It's okay. It's going to be just fine. Don't focus on it right now. Don't focus on anything but me. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay.

They arrived sooner than Kurt expected, Santana pulling up underneath one of the awnings so Kurt could get Blaine out of the car. Finn - awkwardly and gangly though he could be - was surprisingly helpful, tucking his hands underneath Blaine's arms once more even as Blaine let out a low moan of protest, shivering violently as he was pulled away from Kurt.

Finn got him out of the car before Blaine's knees collapsed, and even Finn's support couldn't keep him upright as Blaine shuddered and let out another strangled noise, pressing both hands to his eyes. He was pale, breath coming out in short bursts as he hunched over his own knees and whined.

"Sweetheart, you can do this," Kurt said, wrapping an arm around Blaine's back and pulling him to his feet as gently as possibly, trying to keep him moving. Blaine was strong - the strongest person he knew - and seeing him so utterly incapacitated made Kurt's throat tight as he and Finn helped Blaine into the ER.

Kurt left the registration part to Finn as he guided Blaine over to one of the chairs, depositing him in it and immediately taking the seat beside him. Blaine curled up against him with a wordless noise of pain, one hand threading through Kurt's shirt as Kurt looped an arm around his back and held him, shushing him quietly.

Santana appeared three minutes later, her mouth pinched as she took a seat beside Kurt, folding one leg carefully over the other. Kurt didn't even spare her a second glance, murmuring to Blaine that it was okay, he was okay, even as the hoarse edge to his cries made his heart ache a little more with each one. He answered Finn's questions softly as he filled out the questionnaire, trying not to disturb Blaine any more than he had to, just rubbing his back and closing his own eyes as he tried to absorb and reduce his boyfriend's distress.

Blaine's fingers were white-knuckled in his shirt and his breaths harsh and clipped by the time a nurse called out his name. Kurt knew that it hadn't been long - the ER was almost empty, only a handful of other subdued parties present - but it still felt too long as he coaxed Blaine into the wheelchair she brought over, glancing up at her with the echo of a grateful smile. Blaine's voice thinned to a whine as he pressed his hands against his eyes, hunching over his knees as his breath came out in thin, reedy sounds.

"Are you eighteen?" the nurse asked, directing the question at Kurt, and his blood ran cold.

"No, but - "

"Sorry, honey," the nurse said, apologetic but already moving the wheelchair away, and Blaine let out a soft noise of distress as he was pulled away from Kurt, one hand reaching out for him.

"I'm eighteen," Finn said slowly, and Kurt couldn't help but stare at him, a helpless mixture of emotions churning in his gut as Finn repeated, "I'm eighteen. Can I stay with him?"

"Of course," the nurse replied, as if she hadn't just denied Kurt everything, his hands already aching to hold Blaine close where no one could hurt him. "Follow me."

And then they were gone and Kurt had no choice but to retreat, staring after his stepbrother and his boyfriend as he sank into his seat beside Santana.

She was filing her nails. It seemed hopelessly, helplessly mundane, and Kurt couldn't help the laugh that bubbled out of him, borderline hysterical. "What are you doing?" he asked.

Santana didn't deign the question with a reply, and Kurt didn't blame her, too focused on Blaine to care.

He felt sick, not knowing, his mouth dry, his throat tight as he clasped his hands together on his lap, leg jigging up and down a little as he waited for something, anything. Restless, he got to his feet, pacing the floor for God knows how long before wrenching his phone out of his pocket and hesitating for only a heartbeat before hitting the speed dial.

He let his feet carry him away from Santana, swallowing hard as his dad picked up the phone. "Kurt? Everything okay?"

Of course it wasn't, nothing was, but he forced himself to draw in a shaky breath and reply, "I'm fine, Dad." And then, sniffing, he curled an arm around his stomach and admitted quietly, "It's Blaine, Sebastian . . . Sebastian threw a slushy at him. But there was something in it, he just - " He had to stop himself, swallowing hard. "We're at the ER."

"Lima Memorial?" Kurt nodded, knowing his dad couldn't see it, but the silence must have been enough as he said, "I'm on my way. Hang in there, buddy."

"Thank you," he said softly, hanging up before he could lose control of himself completely and walking stiff-legged back to the waiting room.

Santana had stopped filing her nails and was scrolling through her phone instead, lips pursed. "Why are you even here?" Kurt asked, neither accusing nor overtly curious.

"Because you needed someone to drive the car," Santana replied, looking up a moment later and softening a little when she caught sight of his expression, "and you shouldn't be alone with . . . this."

Kurt didn't need to ask what she was referring to: just being in the waiting room was making his stomach twist. Still, he appreciated the effort, asking huskily, "Where are the others?"

"The less panicky Berrys around, the better," Santana answered simply.

Kurt nodded, reaching up to rub at his temples, trying to soothe the ache building there. He knew that it was better to have less New Directions around him when he could barely keep himself together, but he almost wished for the companionship, the solidarity.

The breathless anticipation was killing him.

Pacing in a shorter line than before, he bit his lip and waited, eventually settling into his seat beside Santana and staring listlessly at his hands. Guilt stabbed him when he realized that he hadn't even contacted Blaine's parents; he leaned back in his seat, knowing that they would get the call from the hospital itself, if need be.

It made Kurt uneasy, the prospect of staying overnight, but he knew that it wasn't about him. It was about Blaine. His brave, stupid, incurably kind boyfriend who had never asked to be slushied. Kurt had wanted to protect him from it, had known that he was safer at Dalton than he would ever be at McKinley, but he had still been glad that Blaine had transferred. He liked being able to keep Blaine close. It made him feel safer and more protected and loved, but love was a two-way street, and he knew that aside from a few growing pains, the New Directions had welcomed Blaine.

Things like this weren't supposed to happen. Kurt tucked his head between his hands and rested his elbows on his knees, trying to keep the rage at bay as it resurfaced, anger throbbing in his temples until he could barely see the floor in front of him. He wanted to make Sebastian pay. It felt wrong to sit there, helpless and detached, while Sebastian retreated with the rest of the Warblers, sneering and unaffected. Every instinct in him had reared up defensively the second he saw Sebastian's smirk, his wordless Let's get out of here loud in the silence.

The worst part was that the Warblers had done nothing. They hadn't reacted at all, as if Blaine writhing on the floor in pain didn't affect them.

Kurt felt sick, and he was almost grateful when the same nurse as before came over to them, smiling as if a friendly face could cure everything. "How is he?" Kurt asked, dropping his hands to his sides, already on his feet. "Is he okay?"

"We're settling him in a room right now," the nurse replied. "If you'd like, you can come see him, but I should warn you - "

"I want to see him," Kurt cut her off.

The nurse nodded, understanding, sparing a glance at Santana. "Only two visitors are allowed in the room at a time," she said.

"I'll stay here," Santana replied, twitching a shoulder in a shrug as if they weren't in a hospital, still texting away.

Kurt followed the nurse down the hall, mind numb and mouth suddenly dry. He didn't hear any of her helpful instructions about navigation - it seemed fairly straightforward, follow the yellow arrow - or cautions about Blaine's appearances. He needed to see him.

It took every ounce of will power he possessed not to fling the door open as soon as the nurse paused in front of it. Heart pounding, he followed her inside, stilling as soon as he caught sight of Blaine. Finn was still there, he noticed, peripherally aware of his presence, anxious and alert as he stood in one corner. Kurt only caught a flash of gratitude across his face before he was at Blaine's side, one of Blaine's hands fumbling blindly for his own as he made a soft sound of relief, a single slurred syllable that sounded a lot like, "Kurt."

Kurt's eyes were blurry with tears as he squeezed his hand back tightly, gathering him into the cradle of his arms and pressing kisses to the top of his still slushy-slick hair. "I've got you," he promised, soft, almost sing-song, as Blaine reached up with his IV-tethered hand to cling to his shirt. "I've got you, it's okay."

"I can't see," Blaine rasped, his voice low and thick, heavy. The nurse had mentioned sedatives and Kurt wasn't surprised: he'd barely been able to pry Blaine's hands from his face just to assess the damage. He couldn't imagine what they had needed to do to get the slushy out of his eyes. Irrigation, Kurt thought, such a humble, innocent word out of context and sharp, painful in it.

"It's okay," he assured, holding him a little tighter and ignoring Finn as he slipped out of the room to catch up with his dad, all his attention focused on the small, trembling body in his arms. "It's just a bandage, sweetheart, it's okay."

Both eyes were covered and Kurt knew with a certain amount of dread that the bandages might not come off - the nurse said that their preliminary examination of his eyes had been inconclusive. They seemed optimistic, though, which Kurt clung to, trying to infuse a sense of certainty into Blaine as he held him close, ignoring the slushy still stained against his own jacket.

"You're okay," he promised softly, and it became a mantra, cradling Blaine close until he felt sleep overtake him, seated awkwardly on the side of the bed but too determined to move.

No one was going to hurt him again. Not on Kurt's watch.