Spoilers: Through "Special Education".
Summary: Kurt can give them what they want - but that doesn't mean he can't have some things he wants for himself, too.
Notes: I would not have known of/used the song within if it hadn't been on a mix. That mix was by livmayette and also it was posted long before "Special Education" which clearly makes her some kind of wizard.
He sat and thought for a long while, watching Pavarotti in his cage doing little more than eating and drinking and fluffing his growing feathers.
It wasn't the first time. He wasn't lying when he told Rachel that Dalton was making him question things, a lot of things. Keeping quiet at rehearsals after being shot down that first meeting made him observe a lot - the way people at this new place spoke to each other, the way it worked and the way that it didn't. The cracks in the ancient brickwork of the place, if there hadn't been enough metaphors before, and the places where it was covered in ivy and wrought iron so beautiful Kurt could cry.
The traditions were a little affected, maybe, but they were sweet; he'd grown attached to his little be-winged mascot quicker than he could have ever guessed. Wes was a jerk but David was surprisingly playful and self-aware behind that upper-crust guffaw he had, and the underclassmen were a little less programmed - a little more yearning, like him. People knew he was a Warbler, watched him with awe in the hallways, and when he'd performed at Sectionals he knew why: that final harmony they all hit together, Blaine's warm tones rising slightly above and yet with the group, was so lovely it still buzzed in his ears.
He could learn to like a lot about Dalton. (Who was he kidding, he could love one very particular thing about Dalton.) But he wanted to like Dalton out loud.
When Blaine got up to leave that day after Sectionals, his hand brushed over Kurt's knee. Kurt's heart bumped in his ears as it happened, and he looked up and after the other boy with that small, secret glance he knew he sometimes had, the one that he really hoped Blaine couldn't read because his whole heart was in it.
Kurt wasn't stupid. Blaine wasn't either, really - he knew a cage was exactly where Kurt's voice lived these days. The question was the same as at McKinley, the same as it had been since the day he told Mercedes he liked boys, or maybe for his whole life.
Was it worth it?
Kurt leaned forward, watching Pavarotti incline his little head. Watching him chirp soundlessly.
He decided. He smiled.
As he quickly learned, Warbler upperclassmen didn't so much choose competition songs outright as choose them from a pool. Freshmen and sophomores brought exactly one suggestion to the table, juniors and seniors received two. The council picked based on balance, potential for arrangements, and a bit of personal preference. So, as it turned out, Kurt had an in.
He felt a bit like a traitor as he did it, but Blaine told him to fit in - and Kurt was a Warbler now. He couldn't still be rooting for the other team. So when Wes started collecting the suggestions for Regionals (and he'd never get used to them actually refining their performance pieces right away), Kurt reigned himself in and calmly raised his hand.
He thought he still saw an eyeroll from Wes anyway.
"Yes, Kurt? Remember, we're looking for strong harmonics, nothing with too much theatricality."
"I know. This is more of a general suggestion" Kurt heard someone cough uncomfortably, but he kept his face at a very careful blank. "Gentlemen, I came from New Directions. I've competed against Vocal Adrenaline. I can help you figure out the best strategy against both of them."
He could feel Blaine's eyes on him, something that could have been admiration or concern. Maybe both.
"If you thought New Directions had skilled dancers, Vocal Adrenaline blows them out of the water. I saw them perform Bohemian Rhapsody as a choreographed live birth. We have sensational vocals, but if we're going to get that one step ahead, we have to give the judges something to look at."
"It's kind of hard," Blaine said delicately, swooping in to rescue him, "to keep the whole big sound we're going for that way."
"After Sectionals, I watched every performance the Warblers have recorded for the past ten years." He saw the upperclassmen's eyebrows shoot up in clear surprise. "I've taken ample notes about the nature of harmonics and the strengths and weaknesses of your current soloists. We can assign out dance parts, or we can keep it subtle enough that it won't affect our vocals. I already have ideas for perfectly elegant choreography that falls beyond the typical standing and swaying. "
"We don't just-"
"Your hopping and spinning, Blaine, while it's completely adorable, isn't going to leave a solid impression."
He heard real-life, actual responsive noises from that, which made him feel a surge of pride. Wes brought the gavel down as another Warbler - Ethan, Kurt recalled - coughed and shot an unreadable look from his eyes that, to Kurt's surprise, seemed to be more in Blaine's direction than his own.
"All right," Wes said diplomatically, "we'll table the suggestion. Once we've made song selections and have parts selected, you're free to demonstrate your ideas for choreography. Now, concerning actual song selections..."
"Oh!" Kurt cut in again, and he couldn't keep the faintest chirp out of his voice, in spite of his efforts. "I do have that too. It's sort of a companion piece - to the dancing, I mean."
"Well." Wes made a thoughtful noise. "Let's hear the name of it."
"That's just it..." And Kurt stood calmly, CD player in hand. He felt Blaine's warning hand on his wrist, fingertips pressed against him light and lingering. Though it made the butterflies in his stomach start to flutter, he gently shook it away. One subtle jerk of his head made Blaine sit back and watch with quiet, devoted attention.
"My friend Tina - you don't know her, she's from McKinley - has got this amazing indie pop collection. I'm a Broadway baby myself, but it's really unique, understated stuff. Meaningful lyrics. Ways we can shake things up, but not lose our sound."
He's saying 'we', and it's not a coincidence. This is how things are now - the way that, back at McKinley, he even sometimes wanted things. It's not him. Not even him and Blaine. Everything, everyone. We.
It's just too bad Blaine's the only one who has really made him smile, around here.
"So I was thinking I'd play a little of this, because I'm not sure if you'd know it. Just to give it some thought."
"We don't really have time," Wes was beginning, "and traditionally-"
"I kind of want to hear it."
At least a dozen pairs of eyes turned on Blaine, who looked surprised even at himself. He promptly coughed and straightened up, looking like he'd meant to do that all along, his eyes fixed and steady as if they held the secrets of the prep school universe. "Kurt's right; he knows our competition. And our competition knows us, by now, so a little uniqueness can't possibly hurt. ...Besides," he added thoughtfully, "I'm pretty sure if we keep tackling the overplayed pop charts, everyone's going to be over it before it's even out of our mouths."
Kurt was pretty sure Blaine could convince them to perform 'Lady Marmalade' in bright pink flapper dresses if he wanted to.
He was also pretty sure he could have kissed him, just then.
So that's how Kurt wound up auditioning for the Warblers a second time, this time to win something deeper and more important than a solo. "You get two minutes," Wes had told him. "Like on 'Idol.' Then we move on to the others."
He stood in front of them and punched 'play' on the CD, head bowed and body stiff like the most traditional of show choirs at the start of their routines. Then the music began.
You've been acting awful tough lately
Smoking a lot of cigarettes lately
But inside, you're just a little baby
Kurt began to move. He wasn't Mike Chang, he knew, he wasn't one of Vocal Adrenaline's driven professionals doing backflips, and this wasn't the song for that anyway. But he did know how to look inside himself and pull out what was there. So that's just what he did.
It's okay to say you've got a weak spot
You don't always have to be on top
Better to be hated than love, love, loved for what you're not
He twirled, pivoted, and spun. His feet wove together and apart again, naturally, finding the singer's rhythm. It was almost a soft-shoe, understated, graceful - except Kurt's neck was curving just so, and there was a subtle, defiant pop to his hip. His body moved as if it felt every single thing the song was singing.
You're vulnerable, you're vulnerable
You are not a robot
You're lovable, you're lovable
But you're just so troubled
"Hear just her voice and it sounds too quirky for the Warblers, and too high-pitched," Kurt said before a dissenter could open his mouth. He was still moving, eyes shut in focus. "But hear it in Blaine's voice. For instance." His eyes opened and fell on Blaine, who was looking at him with some measure of puzzlement, awe, and genuine pleasure. "Or, you know, David's or Matt's, or even in mine. Hear the arrangements we could do behind it. It's not a showstopper, but you don't want that, do you?" He twirled again, elegantly, to face the council bench at that. "We could make it a middle number. Keep it low-key, but absolutely hypnotic."
Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot
And Kurt began to actually sing the next verse, deliberately harmonizing with the recording and using his lower register.
"You've been hanging with the unloved kids,
Who you never really liked and you never trusted.
But you are so magnetic, you pick up all the pins."
Blaine was locking eyes with him, without him even initiating the contact. Blaine, who was looking struck with something, breathless, except Kurt wasn't displaying a flawless solo for the sake of wowing the room. This was something else.
And suddenly there were just the two of them in the whole place.
"Never committing to anything,
You don't pick up the phone when it rings, rings, rings.
Don't be so pathetic, just open up and sing.
I'm vulnerable, I'm vulnerable,
I am not a robot.
You're lovable, you're lovable..."
The truth was, Kurt didn't care if this song got picked. He could see it working, for the sake of doing something new and different. For the sake of proving something.
Bu the look on Blaine's face was what he'd been waiting for, every time he'd sung these words into the mirror and felt them pulse under his skin.
"...can you teach me how to feel real?
Can you turn my power on?
Well, let the drum beat drop..."
Blaine lingered behind as the rest of the Warblers filtered out, watching Kurt gather up the CD player, his satchel. Kurt could feel those dark eyes on his back, as if Blaine were making a long and calculated decision, and it made his body feel liquid with pleasure and hope. But he didn't turn around. He got his things together, and made to turn and go.
"Can you teach me that move?"
Kurt blinked, trying (poorly) to hide his smile, and set the satchel back down.
"The one with the..." Blaine tried to demonstrate, but the arms were wrong, his legs were rigid. What on Kurt had felt graceful, feminine without being female, understated but subtly proud, felt tight and ridiculous in Blaine's body.
Now Kurt allowed the smile to spread, as he examined Blaine critically from all angles. The truth was that in spite of that awkwardness, the other boy looked good. He always looked good. But he was always just a little bit more attractive when he wasn't aware of how much, when he was smiling in the awed but awkward way he was doing right now.
Kurt slipped up behind him, tried to maneuver his arms down half an inch, and blinked. "Do you triple starch this jacket?"
"Uhm." Blaine smiled nervously. "It sort of ruins the ensemble if it's creased everywhere."
"Also unattractive? Being as stiff as a penguin."
"Hey, I make this thing look classy," Blaine protested, a sincere smile breaking across his face for a moment. "And I don't know what you saw at Sectionals, but I can move in it, too."
"And yet here we are," Kurt teased, nudging Blaine's right leg into place with a foot. "There. Now try it. Right, left, and half-spin..."
It was an improvement. But after their mutual buzz of delight, Blaine's eyes lingered on Kurt's, their shared space suddenly close and private. Kurt felt that fluttering in his stomach again, the way he did whenever his friend turned that dark gaze upon him like he was the only human alive.
Blaine smiled and nudged him, bumping their shoulders. He smiled back, and for a second they let it hover in the air.
"...What was this, today?" the older boy finally asked, and he had that gentle, careful tone again, all that composure that drove Kurt up the wall for a few dozen different reasons.
"You know what. I gave them what they wanted."
"You basically flipped them off," Blaine noted, not sounding entirely displeased.
"That too. But how they wanted it." The corners of his mouth turned up, a little wickedly. "And with style, don't you think?"
They both laughed - real, warm, playful. It was Blaine's private-joke laugh, his oh-god-stop-it laugh, the one that made Kurt feel dizzy and giddy.
"I liked it," he said. "It was challenging for everyone, but sometimes we all need a little challenge. You knew how to frame it for the group, who to talk to, how to relay the message. That shows leadership. Maybe someday you can-"
Worried eyes turned slightly upward towards him. "Mmm?"
"Do you...say anything that you haven't rehearsed in your head half a dozen times?"
The effect, Kurt decided, was delicious. Blaine sputtered and ducked his head, even colored a little, like he'd been caught stealing from a candy dish.
"What are you-?"
"I'm serious." Kurt's eyes locked on his firmly, though there was a smirk at the corner of his mouth, because sweet Gaga, he couldn't actually be mad. Not at Blaine.
Not at beautiful, smart, warm, nurturing, proud, pretentious, restrained, condescending, ridiculous, well-meaning, messed up, weak, brave, incredible Blaine.
"I'm completely serious," Kurt repeated, voice softening, his eyes not not leaving his friend's for a second. "Blaine. Look, I don't know how I'd have survived Karofsky without you, but you're... Blaine, you are seventeen."
He wasn't sure what would happen, but he wasn't prepared for what he saw - for the way Blaine looked stunned, and then taut, rocking back on his heels. Shrinking, a little.
"And I'm sixteen. Not six," he added, gently.
Blaine bit his lower lip - too hard, Kurt thought, because he seemed to wince as he did. He was quiet for a bit too long, head lifting as if about to say something and then dipping again. Finally he muttered something that Kurt couldn't make out, except it ended in 'enough.'
"I can't hear-"
"It has to be enough." His voice was hesitant and tight, the way Kurt had only heard it once before.
"Everything does. I do. This is kind of the last place I have, Kurt, so I have to fit. And now you're here, and I just really want this to... To be something. To work for the both of us." He exhaled slowly, and Kurt was able to get a good look and confirm that yes, his shoulders were maybe shaking a little. "I was where you were at, a year and a half ago, and I didn't have anyone there to be that guy for me. To teach me how this place works, all the little pieces and how they fit. I was scared, for the longest time, that I'd never be a part of anything. So..."
"I'm tougher than I look, Blaine."
(And he heard Coach Sylvester's voice contradicting him, 'porcelain' - except you heated porcelain in a furnace until it shone, didn't you?)
"You shouldn't have to be."
"And neither should you. And if you want to help me, then the last thing you should be telling me is to-" Kurt shook his head in the sheer frustration of it. "Is to not be... Not be me. You need to be a drop in the ocean around here? Fine. I think we both have it in us to rock this look."
And he brushed a hand down Blaine's lapel, straightening it with a purposeful gesture. He felt Blaine relax - under the reassurance? into his touch? - before he drew back and met his gaze again.
"But do not pretend around me. Not me. I know who you are. You're a lot more than Dalton - and I bet everyone else around here is, too, but you're the best thing about it."
The composure had settled back into Blaine, who was standing straight again, looking taller than his real height. His eyes were soft, his smile warm - but a little stunned. Impressed. And for once, he had no speeches to make.
"I'm sor-" he finally began.
But Kurt wasn't done.
A hand went to that perfectly straight tie, and tugged. Blaine rocked on his heels unsteadily before he stumbled forward, hands instinctively out to steady himself, to keep from toppling. Kurt caught one shoulder with his free one, keeping Blaine locked in place - an inch from him, from their bodies touching.
Blaine smelled like cologne, something posh from what Kurt wanted to say was Calvin Klein (because he would), but also like starch and cotton, and like a boy - like a warm, real, live boy whose lips were a few moments from his lips, whose hazel eyes were staring at Kurt's mouth. And the best part wasn't how Kurt had managed to do all of this today - to be clever and sharp and fierce and free, and yet never lose his cool, never move his own tie out of place. It wasn't how Kurt had felt able to do it because Blaine's eyes were on him, and Blaine was stupid and wonderful and worth it, and he needed to know it.
It was the noise Blaine made, when he fell forward - strangled and slightly breathless. Unraveled, a little afraid. Wanting.
He was making that noise because of Kurt. He was wearing that look, right now, because of Kurt. And there was no way Kurt wasn't going to want that all the time, as often as possible. That was why he smiled slow and lazy, as he let Blaine stand there like that half on his toes. He leaned in, so close, and for once so sure. So very sure of everything.
Then he let go - slowly, carefully, so Blaine could find his footing again, but not quite his voice. "You're the best thing about Dalton to me," he repeated carefully. "And when you figure out what you want to do about that, Blaine, let me know."
He practically sashayed from the room - which was way too hard, ridiculously hard, to do. But another strangled noise from Blaine as he left made it all worth it.
They would talk later, and go to practice the next day, and find out who they wanted to be. Wes would be a bitch and the seniors would shoot down the juniors and so forth down the line. Kurt would be a rock star in these gilded hallways, whatever "rock star" meant to hundreds of years of Dalton Academy tradition. He'd be a rock star to himself, which was bigger, it was more. And he would be the only one to know Blaine could have that look in his eyes, that noise in his throat - and, he was sure he'd learn, so many others.
In a third floor dormitory, a canary sang. Kurt smiled.