For the first time in their relationship, they feel like equals. Blaine might no longer be the alpha-gay, but then neither is Kurt. They’re both a little messier around the edges than they were this time last year and Blaine thinks that’s a good thing. You can’t create a masterpiece without getting a few paint stains here and there, and whilst it’s maybe a little unfortunate that neither of them thought to wear coveralls to begin with, at least the finished product looks good. Or, at least, he thinks it does.
Sam had been a little less pleased to hear they were back together, concerned that Blaine was going to get abandoned again. Blaine had become defensive at that, pointing out a few home truths that old-Blaine would definitely have left unsaid, namely how Sam had abandoned him as well, without Kurt’s excuse of being out of state. It did clear the air, though, and Sam had even invited him and Tina out for coffee after school, reuniting their weird trio.
Somehow he finds that he the bridges between him and his friends don’t have to crumble or burn, that he can use them as little or as often as he wants to, providing he extends the same courtesy. He no longer minds if Sam and Artie hang out without him, especially if they’re playing that fantasy game with the big-boobed female elves because, well, ew. Equally, each time he suggests some kind of meet-up and people agree enthusiastically, he becomes a little less scared of appearing needy and being turned down.
Of course, if he ever does find himself at an uncomfortably loose end, if he ever feels that old loneliness prickling in his stomach, he can always call Kurt. Kurt who has cheered Blaine up a couple more times than he probably should have done and then made sure that Blaine stopped beating himself up about that fact. Kurt who now texts Blaine spontaneously, starts up conversations or just sends a snarky one-liner about an unfortunately dressed co-worker. Kurt who properly listens to Blaine talk about his day, especially when he needs to rant about McKinley Neanderthals and their sense of entitlement.
If Blaine’s being honest, the bullying is probably worse than he’d like to admit. It’s the one blot in his otherwise perfect painting. His torso is getting bruised daily from unexpected locker-slams and he’s become a little too well-acquainted with the sinks in the boy’s bathroom from washing out countless slushies. And the bullies show no sign of stopping, despite his attempts to keep his head down. In fact, even if he refuses to admit it to himself, let alone Kurt, it’s probably getting worse which is just a bit terrifying. Not enough to keep him awake at night—his sleep pattern is more or less back to normal now thanks to the medication—but enough to make his stomach jolt whenever he spots a letterman jacket headed in his direction.
He knows he needs to address it, but there’s still a part of him that’s scared to upset the balance of his re-constructed life. It’s not that he thinks it would change anything as such; he knows that Kurt and his friends would support him. His father’s backing is a bit less certain since their relationship is still a tentative one, but it’s not the reason he keep his mouth shut, not really. The thing he’s really scared of, more so than the vague, ever-present threat of being beaten up, is the return of the helplessness. A locker-slam here and there he can cope with, but by acknowledging his weakness, by allowing himself to be squashed down in size again, he risks the air leaking out of him once more. And he’s happy with the way he’s floating along right now, he doesn’t want to deflate, especially not with his NYADA audition just around the corner. On the whole, he manages to quell his foreboding, taking it one slushy attack at a time and making a conscious effort not to shut people out. He’s not going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, not this time.
Which is why, when he’s pinned against the wall by two jocks just as he leaves via the doors near the library and is jostled and taunted before being dropped to the ground, he calmly makes his way home and rings Kurt. Not because he needs to, but because he wants to.
Blaine grins even as he retrieves the bruise cream from his bedside drawer. “Did Kurt Hummel seriously just say ‘s’up’?”
“Ugh, I’m sorry, I’ve been sat next to Jason for too long. I swear his girlfriend rings him on the hour every hour and he answers with ‘s’up’ every time without fail. It’s annoying, but apparently catching.”
“Well, it could be worse. Remember that time Rachel took to saying ‘toodles’ before ringing off?”
“Oh, God, yes. That made me want to tear my eyes out. She’s so pretentious I don’t know how I stand her half the time.”
“You love her really.” Blaine reminds him and he hums slightly in reluctant agreement.
“Love you more, though.”
“Not too bad.” He uncaps the tube and pushes his shirt up, wincing when he sees the large bruise already developing on his side. “Actually it was kind of shit.”
The sympathetic noise Kurt produces is nice; it makes him feel comforted, rather than pathetic. He’s even more grateful when Kurt doesn’t continue, just waits Blaine out.
“These jocks cornered me on my way out, near the library—I shouldn’t’ve have gone that way, I know—so no one was around and they just sort of lifted me against the wall. It wasn’t that bad, not really, but it kind of hurt and they said some things that…well, they weren’t very nice.”
“It’s fine. Well, it’s not, but I’m fine.”
“Have you put that miracle cream on the bruises yet?”
Blaine wishes Kurt didn’t know just how amazing the cream currently in his hand is from personal experience. He doesn’t like to think of Kurt putting up with this, alone, before Blaine came into his life. He thinks back to Kurt’s admission of how he used to be suffocated by the same invisible blanket that Blaine’s just struggled out from and sucks in a breath.
“Yeah, I’m doing it now.” He finishes spreading the cream on the areas he can reach easily and realises how much he wants Kurt next to him right now. Practically, he needs someone to cream-up his back, but also he just really, really wants a hug. “Kurt, you know how you said I don’t need you anymore?”
“What if I maybe need you a little bit sometimes?”
Kurt doesn’t even pause. “Of course you can need me! I just meant—it’s okay to need my support sometimes, that’s part of my job. Just because you want a hug when you’ve been beaten up by six-foot idiots doesn’t mean you’re co-dependent. God, no human being should have to put up with that treatment!”
“I don’t really mind the physical stuff. I mean, yeah, obviously I’d rather not get pushed around. But it’s the slurs that get to me. Who are they to tell me what’s wrong and right when they’re the ones with the fucked up moral codes? And usually it’s fine because they’re generic insults, you know? They can call me a faggot as many times as they like and I’m not going to stop loving you. But today they started getting a bit more…personal I guess?”
“Do you want to tell me what they said?”
“I don’t know…it’s sort of embarrassing.” He huffs out a laugh, pulls his polo shirt back down.
“Nothing those idiots could say would ever change my opinion of you. Not ever.”
“Can we maybe do this over Skype? It’s just—I don’t like not being able to see you when I say stuff.”
“’Course. I’ll just go and get my laptop.”
See, Blaine, you’re not being needy. He doesn’t even mind.
It takes a few minutes of faffing about, and then for some reason Skype keeps dropping them as soon as they connect. Blaine almost takes it as a sign, but then decides he’s over being ruled by a destiny that probably doesn’t exist and, if it does, definitely has it in for him. The kafuffle is worth it anyway when the call finally connects and he can see Kurt’s slightly tired, but still overwhelmingly beautiful face.
For a moment it’s weirdly formal; whenever Blaine goes on Skype it always gives him vaguely uncomfortable, job interview-like vibes while he gets used to it. No matter how well he knows the person he’s speaking to, no matter how good the webcam, there’s something about being projected onto a screen that makes him feel like his every move is being judged.
As soon as Kurt leans forwards slightly, resting his chin on his palm and giving Blaine a quirked little smile, Blaine’s shoulders sag a bit. He drags his laptop closer, slouches down in his desk chair and thinks about what he wants to say.
“It—it started off with my clothes and stuff because I guess that links into their whole offensively gay argument…”
“I love the way you dress.” Kurt says immediately, glancing down fondly at Blaine’s bowtie to illustrate his point.
Blaine allows himself half a smile. “And then it was just insults about my…well, about my face. And my height. Apparently not having the growth spurt that Cooper did makes me a target. Like they were literally stood there blaming me for their actions, as if the fact that I’m freakishly short gives them—anyway, it was just…not nice.”
Kurt’s eyes narrow and Blaine starts to feel jittery in his seat again.
“Okay, for a start, if you weren’t the perfect height that you are, you wouldn’t fit in my arms as well as you do. I mean, our spooning sessions would be ruined. Secondly, what they were doing is victim blaming and that’s never okay. Even if you were a horrible person — which you’re not — it doesn’t justify what they’re doing to you. In fact, I really think you need to tell your parents about what’s been going on.”
“I don’t think—”
“I know you don’t want to. But they care about you, Blaine. And I really do think the only way this is going to stop is if they go into school and make some noise about it. The school won’t care unless its reputation is hanging in the balance. If I wasn’t in another state, I’d go in myself.”
Blaine accepts the sentiment for what it is and decides there’s no point arguing about this; he can shrug non-committedly and Kurt will be none the wiser that his parents are never actually going to find out. Besides, it’s only a couple more months until graduation and then none of it will matter anyway.
“Just think about it, okay?” Kurt adds and something about his tone makes Blaine think that he’s being read more accurately than he’d been counting on. Please, don’t let Kurt ring his parents.
“I will do, I promise.”
Kurt looks happier at that. “You promise promise?”
“I just happen to know from experience that you keep your promises…although I am still waiting for those cookies you promised to make me.”
Blaine rolls his eyes, shrugging into the hoodie draped over the back of his chair. “I forgot how un-patient you are when it comes to food. I’ll make them when you’re next in Ohio, ‘kay?”
“Hmm, that’ll have to do. Don’t blame me if I eat New York’s entire supply of cheesecake while I wait.”
“I won’t blame you, but I might judge you a little.”
“Hey! I thought our relationship was now a judgement-free zone!”
“Fine, I promise to support you if you do indeed decide to eat all dairy-based desserts in the tri-state area. I’ll use your new belly as a pillow.”
Naturally, Blaine doesn’t tell his parents, even though the guilt forces him to keep his promise; he does think hard about telling them, he just ultimately decides not to. At the time, it seems like the best decision. He’s only just got his mom to stop fussing over his every move, he doesn’t need her to start all over again. His dad is just learning to be in the same room as him, to see him as an equal, he doesn’t want to become the pathetic little victim again. Every other aspect of his life is good; he can stick the bullying out just until he graduates.
When he’s in the locker room after gym class and doesn’t even see the first punch coming, however, he’s willing to admit it might have been a bit of a foolish decision. At some point he crumples to the ground and after that it’s all a bit of a blur. The punches literally come out of nowhere since his eyes are involuntarily screwed shut and his desperation to fight, to escape, to run is overridden by a sudden detachment drifting through him. He can feel the pain, but his mind is disconnected from it somehow.
He thinks of the irony that they’re going to kill him now when he’s just rediscovered his yearning to live. His last thought as the blackness descends completely, amidst shouts that are coming from several miles away, is that he doesn’t want to crash into the rocks beneath him. He may have grown accustomed to being a balloon, but that doesn’t stop his rubbery skin from being fragile; no amount of wishful thinking is going to stop the last bit of air from huffing out of him, not when they squeeze him with such sharp fingers.