Set Him Free


“Do you think he’s happy?” Kurt asked as he stared pensively at Pavarotti.

Blaine looked up from the book he was studying and glanced over at the Warbler’s mascot who was preening himself on his perch. How could you tell if a bird was happy or not? “He looks okay,” Blaine replied.

“I know, I know,” Kurt said with a sigh of resignation. “He has water and food. He has a comfortable cage. What more could he want?”

Blaine remembered saying those exact words to Kurt not too long ago, but wondered if they were really talking about the bird. “What do you think he wants?”

Kurt sighed again. “Maybe he’d like to be able to fly free – go wherever the mood takes him.”

“He’s safe in the cage. If we let him out, he could get hurt,” Blaine said softly.

“Maybe he would consider it worth the trade,” Kurt replied. “Maybe a few minutes of wonderful would be worth a lifetime of nothing special.”

Blaine thought he recognized the quote from somewhere, but couldn’t place it right offhand. He understood the sentiment though. “If something happened to him, we’d never be able to forgive ourselves,” Blaine said.

Kurt nodded sadly and stood to wander aimlessly around the room.

Blaine returned to his book, but couldn’t concentrate on the assignment. Blaine knew Kurt was having a difficult time adjusting to life at Dalton. The conformity of the uniforms, being relegated to the chorus, leaving his friends and family behind had all chipped away at the light Blaine used to see in Kurt’s eyes. The boy that Blaine had so enjoyed spending time with while Kurt attended McKinley was disappearing now that Kurt was at Dalton. Kurt was safe, but he wasn’t happy.

There was a buzzing sound and Kurt stopped pacing to pull his cell phone out. Blaine watched from the corner of his eye as Kurt read his message, sank onto the couch and stared morosely at the phone.

“Bad news?” Blaine asked in concern.

“Mercedes says there’s a football game at McKinley this week,” Kurt said. “She wants me to meet her there.”

Blaine rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. It was difficult to fix whatever Kurt’s current problem was if he had no clue what was causing it. “Would you like to go?” he asked, hoping a clue to the problem would present itself it he just kept Kurt talking.

Kurt mulled over the suggestion before shaking his head. “It would be too awkward. I’m not part of that group anymore.”

Blaine bit his tongue to keep from saying, ‘but you want to be’. He could see that Kurt missed his friends. Perhaps this was just what Kurt needed to boost his morale. “Isn’t your brother on the team?”

“Step-brother,” Kurt corrected automatically. “He’s the quarterback.”

Blaine shrugged at the correction. “No one is going to hold it against you if you go to see your step-brother play in a football game. And if you visit with your friends at the same time, well, that’s just a bonus.”

Kurt shook his head, still looking glum. “All the guys are on the football team, even Artie. Except for Mercedes and Rachel, the girls are all Cheerios.”

Blaine wondered how a guy in a wheelchair had made in onto the football team, but didn’t ask. “Mercedes would be glad to see you.”

Kurt smiled sadly. “It would be nice to see her, but …”

“But what?” Blaine asked. He had the feeling they were getting close to whatever the real issue was.

“Karofsky is on the team, too,” Kurt said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Blaine could have kicked himself for not realizing the problem sooner. Kurt was afraid to face the closet-case that had run him out of McKinley with his bullying and threats. “He won’t dare try anything in front of witnesses. The wusses at the school board won’t reinstate him again if there is someone to corroborate your story.”

Kurt nodded but didn’t look convinced.

“What if I go with you?” Blaine offered.

Kurt brightened noticeably and Blaine congratulated himself on cheering his friend up. “Are you sure?” Kurt asked. “I mean, you don’t know anyone there.”

“I know Mercedes,” Blaine replied with a satisfied grin. “Besides, it may not be the Buckeyes, but I do enjoy a good football game.”

Blaine returned to his book as Kurt began texting quickly, he assumed to let Mercedes know they would be coming to the game. Crisis over, Blaine was finally able to concentrate on his studies and, on the positive side, he had a date with Kurt for later in the week. Well, maybe ‘date’ wasn’t the right word. After all, Kurt had never given him any indication that he was interested in anything more than hanging out with a friend, but a guy could keep hoping.


~ * ~

Blaine had no idea who won the football game. He’d spent the whole time watching the way Kurt came alive again as he and Mercedes talked about the Glee club, their friends, fashions and all the other things that they didn’t have time to text about during the week – and probably rehash a few things they did.

As much as he hated to admit it, Blaine realized just how much of a mistake it had been for Kurt to transfer to Dalton. He belonged at McKinley. If only that closet-case, Karofsky had stayed expelled.

“Come on, Blaine.” Kurt grabbed Blaine’s hand and pulled him to his feet. “We’re meeting the others outside the gym.”

Blaine wondered if Kurt was aware that they were holding hands as they descended from the bleachers. Mercedes noticed and gave him a knowing smirk which made Blaine wonder what Kurt had said about him.

When they reached the bottom of the bleachers, Kurt let go of Blaine’s hand as he needed both of his to explain something to Mercedes. Blaine was disappointed at the loss, but had to smile at the animated way Kurt talked with his friend. He’d missed this side of Kurt.

A petite brunette joined them outside the gym. Blaine vaguely remembered Kurt describing her as his only real competition.

“You know, if you hadn’t quit the team, they would have made that field goal,” the brunette was saying.

Blaine’s attention was captured by the comment and he quit day-dreaming to pay attention.

“Well, I don’t know if Coach Beiste would appreciate ‘Single Ladies’ playing during the game,” Kurt replied with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“You were on the football team?” Blaine blurted out.

“He was the kicker,” Mercedes said with a grin. “That was before we were Cheerios, though.”

“You were a cheerleader, too?” Blaine said with a slow grin of his own. “Any videos of that?”

“No,” Kurt said forcefully at the same time Mercedes said, “I’m sure I could find some.”

Three girls in Cheerios uniforms had drifted over while they were talking and chimed in.

“He helped us win Nationals last year,” said one of the blondes.

“What do you mean ‘us’?” sniped the brunette. “Coach Sylvester threw you off the team when you got knocked up. Don’t know why she let you back on this year.”

“Because Coach Sylvester wants the best on her team,” the blonde said with saccharin sweetness. “That’s why you’re at the bottom of the pyramid.”

“I thought that was because of Santana’s boob job?” the other blond said in a puzzled tone.

Despite being decidedly gay, Blaine couldn’t help but notice that the brunette, Santana, was rather well endowed for a teenager.

“Hey, if you got it, flaunt it.” A guy in a Mohawk walked over and put an arm over Santana’s shoulder. “If you don’t got it, buy it.”

Santana gave a ‘so there’ nod of defiance, not the least bit deterred by the derisive comments.

The conversation continued with a mixture of friendly, and not-so-friendly, banter while Blaine wondered how must begging he’d have to do to get Mercedes to show him the videos of Kurt in his Cheerios uniform.

Blaine was watching Kurt while having a pleasant fantasy of the younger man in a form-fitting cheerleading uniform, when he saw Kurt’s face go pale. He unconsciously took a step towards Kurt while turning in the direction Kurt was looking. The rest of the group fell silent as they all realized something was going on.

Karofsky was standing just outside the gym and giving them all a disgusted glare. The group closed ranks, hiding Kurt in their midst while Blaine put a comforting hand on Kurt’s shoulder.

“Walk on, Karofsky,” Mohawk said.

Karofsky appeared to be weighing his options when a black guy, another football player by his build, walked out and grabbed Karofsky’s arm and tried to pull him away. “It ain’t worth it, dude.”

The whole group breathed a sigh of relief as Karofsky let himself be led away without incident. Blaine squeezed Kurt’s shoulder in reassurance. Kurt sighed and leaned back into him as if not sure his legs were going to hold him up.

“Okay, Kurt?” Finn, Kurt’s step-brother pushed his way through the group and looked at Kurt anxiously.

“I’m fine,” Kurt replied with an attempt at his usual jauntiness. “So, where’s the party?”

The McKinley group exchanged uncertain glances, but seemed to arrive at the conclusion if Kurt didn’t want to belabor the confrontation, they’d oblige. They drifted off with instructions to meet up at Quinn’s for pizza.


~ * ~

Blaine found himself sitting next to Rachel, Finn’s girlfriend and Kurt’s former competition, while eating a slice of pizza. He didn’t mind being left on his own while Kurt floated about the room, chatting up his old friends, but he would have preferred to grill Mercedes about the cheerleading videos.

“You know, I have two gay dads, so, you and Kurt – that’s fine with me,” Rachel said without preamble.

Blaine blinked a little at the girl’s forthrightness. “We’re just friends.”

“Oh, you have a boyfriend then?” Rachel asked.

“No,” Blaine answered hesitantly. He had the feeling he was walking into a minefield. “No boyfriend.”

“You’re not straight, are you?” Rachel asked with a frown. “I mean, Kurt’s always falling for straight guys. First Finn and then Sam. It would be just his luck to find the only straight guy at Dalton.”

Blaine nearly choked on his pizza which he had unwisely put in his mouth in an attempt to forestall any further conversation. He didn’t know who Sam was, but Finn? Kurt’s step-brother?

“Leave the boy alone, hobbit,” Santana said scathingly as she slid into place on Blaine’s other side. “Gay or straight, he’s not going to be interested in you.”

“I wasn’t asking for me,” Rachel said with a dismissive toss of her head. She stood and stalked away, nose in the air.

“Queen drama-bitch,” Santana said with a glare at Rachel’s retreating back.

Blaine had just managed to clear the bite of pizza from his throat when Santana gave him a sultry smile and leaned in suggestively. “So, you and Kurt are just friends. How would you like to be friends with me?”

“I’m gay,” Blaine said and scooted as far away from the girl as his chair would allow. Unfortunately, the blonde from earlier had taken the seat Rachel had left and he was trapped between the two. At least the blonde didn’t seem too want to eat him alive though.

“That’s okay,” the blonde said almost absently. “I made out with Kurt and he’s gay.” She looked up with an apologetic expression. “I can’t do that anymore though because I have a boyfriend now.”

Blaine blinked a few times. Kurt had made out with the cheerleader? Had that been before or after the Karofsky incident? He grabbed his soda and drained the glass. “I think I need more to drink,” he said and made an escape before either girl could say anything else.

“Are you okay?” The other blonde Cheerio, Quinn, walked over and gave Blaine a concerned look. She glanced over at where Santana was watching with disgust the other blonde and the Wheelchair-guy make goo-goo eyes at each other. “Santana is a bit… over-the-top at times.”

“I noticed,” Blaine said thinking that was a polite way of describing the girl.

Quinn leaned forward slightly and propped her chin on her hand as she studied Blaine. “So, are you sure you and Kurt are just friends?”

“Is that all anyone is interested in?” Blaine asked.

Quinn smiled slightly. “We worry about him. Even though he transferred and you are the competition, we want him to be happy. There wasn’t anyone here for him – at least no one who would admit they were gay. We hoped that he would have better luck at your school.”

“Not everyone at Dalton is gay,” Blaine said.

“But you are,” Quinn said. “And you’re here together. It’s only natural to assume.”

Blaine felt a warm flush creep up his face. He wished it were true. He didn’t answer, but judging by Quinn’s smile of triumph, he didn’t need to.

“Hey, I’m Sam.” A blond guy joined them and held out his hand with a grin. Blaine flashed back to what Rachel has said about Kurt and his crushes. He wanted to dislike the guy, but he was just too open and friendly. Also, he was very straight if the way he slid his free arm around Quinn was an indication.

Blaine took the guy’s hand and introduced himself, though he had the feeling everyone in the room knew who he was. He chatted with Sam for a few minutes and then Finn came over and the blond couple drifted off.

“So, I, uh, I guess I’m supposed to ask what your intentions are,” Finn stammered once they were alone.

Blaine nearly choked on his drink this time. “Intentions?” he asked while trying to clear his throat.

“You know, towards my, uh, brother,” Finn said, looking both uncomfortable and determined.

“I thought that was the father’s line,” Blaine asked, stalling as he tried to regain his composure.

“Yeah, well, Burt’s not here, so…” Finn gave Blaine a half-grin and then turned serious again. “I have to make sure you’re going to treat Kurt right.”

“We’re just friends,” Blaine said thinking that maybe he should just put it on a sign and wear it around his neck.

Finn nodded, but didn’t look like he believed it. “Just be good to him, okay?”

“I promise,” Blaine said. Finn was kind of charming in an overly-protective brother sort of way. Blaine appreciated that he was just looking out for Kurt.

Blaine had a few minutes of peace before Mercedes appeared at his elbow and grinned up at him. “You look like you’ve been raked over the coals.”

“Is it always like this?” Blaine asked.

“You mean the grilling, the sniping, and the threats of bodily harm?” Mercedes asked. “I think they were being nice for Kurt’s sake. Didn’t want to run you off.”

Blaine wasn’t sure if Mercedes was serious or not, but was leaning towards not. He looked over at Kurt who seemed to thrive on all the drama going on.

“He misses this,” Blaine said, not realizing he’d spoken aloud until Mercedes answered.

“He doesn’t miss the bullying.”

“You all stood up to Karofsky tonight,” Blaine said.

“It’s one thing to get a face-slushy, but Karofsky was just scary,” Mercedes said with a shudder. “We have to protect our own.”

Blaine didn’t ask about the face-slushy. The popular kids at his old school had their ways of showing their superiority over those they considered losers, so he could guess what it was.

“Do you think he’s happy at Dalton?” Of them all, Mercedes was probably the only one Kurt would have confided in.

“He feels safe there,” Mercedes said, but Blaine could tell she was temporizing.

“With all of you there to protect him, I doubt Karofsky would try anything again,” Blaine said.

Mercedes nodded, but didn’t comment.

“He belongs at McKinley,” Blaine said softly. Just saying it was like putting a dagger through his heart.

Mercedes gave him a sympathetic look. “He’s not going to leave Dalton.”

Blaine’s heart did a little skip. “Why?” he asked, hoping the answer was what he wanted to hear.

Mercedes patted him on the arm and smiled. “You know why.”

Blaine’s heart soared as Mercedes winked and walked away. He hadn’t totally read the situation wrong. Kurt did have feelings for him. Maybe he was reticent because of what had happened with Karofsky. Maybe he was just shy. Whatever the reason, Blaine was heartened that if he did try to push things along a little, he wasn’t risking his friendship over something Kurt had no interest in.

The question was, what was the next step?


~ * ~

The ride back to Dalton was uneventful as Kurt fell asleep almost as soon as the car was in gear. Blaine used the time to mull over the situation. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted Kurt, but he wanted the Kurt that he’d first met; the one he’d seen tonight, not the automaton that Kurt was becoming at Dalton.

There just didn’t seem to be any way to reconcile the two. Either Blaine could encourage Kurt to stay at Dalton and watch the man he loved disappear little by little or he could encourage him to return to McKinley and risk losing him completely.

Blaine also realized that if he admitted his feelings to Kurt, there was a very good chance the boy wouldn’t want to leave. And while that thought did all sorts of funny things to his insides, he knew in his heart that it was a mistake.

By the time they arrived at the school and Blaine helped a sleepy Kurt up to his room, he was no closer to a solution than when they’d left Quinn’s house. No matter what he decided, he was going to lose.


~ * ~

“It’s about time to meet up with the others,” Wes said to Blaine, who had been aimlessly following him around the mall for the last hour.

“Yeah, sure,” Blaine said with a distracted shrug.

Wes looked askance at his friend. Blaine was the heart of the Warblers and this distracted attitude had been going on all weekend and was beginning to affect the whole group. “What’s going on with you, man?”

“Huh? Nothing, I’m fine,” Blaine said with a half-hearted attempt at a laugh.

“Yeah, and I’m a soprano,” Wes replied sarcastically.

Blaine’s lips quirked in a genuine half-grin. “I suspected you hadn’t hit puberty yet.”

Wes bumped his shoulder against Blaine’s, knocking his friend slightly off-balance, but eliciting a chuckle. “Come on, give over. What’s got you looking like someone took the last jelly donut from the box before you got any?”

When Blaine shrugged without responding, Wes grabbed his friend’s arm and pulled him to a stop. “Seriously, dude. Even the freshmen are starting to notice you’re not your usual outrageous self.”

Blaine sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall as if he needed the extra support. “It’s Kurt. He really misses his old school and his old friends.”

Wes didn’t know the younger boy as well as Blaine, but even he’d been able to see that Kurt had become withdrawn. “You think he made a mistake coming to Dalton?”

Blaine nodded and stared at his feet. “He won’t admit it though.”

“What do you think is keeping him here?” Wes asked, though he suspected he knew.

“I don’t think there are any other gay guys at his school,” Blaine said. “At least, there aren’t any who admit it.”

When Blaine didn’t meet Wes’ eyes, Wes knew there was more to it than that. Wes had seen the way that Kurt’s eyes followed Blaine as soon as the older boy entered the room.

“He has a crush on you,” Wes said.

Blaine nodded. From the pained look in his eyes, Wes suspected the feeling was mutual, but that for some reason, Blaine didn’t want to reciprocate.

“You think if he didn’t, he’d go back to McKinley?” Wes asked.

Again, Blaine nodded, looking even more morose.

“Is that what you want?” Wes asked.

“It’s what’s best for Kurt,” Blaine replied, finally meeting Wes’s eyes.

Wes nodded. “Okay, then. Here’s what we’ve got to do.”


~ * ~

Blaine meandered around the Gap, keeping his potential mark in sight without being obvious, while Wes rounded up the rest of the Warblers and sent them inside with instructions that were going to back Blaine up on an impromptu show. Wes had already picked out a song that would have the desired results.

Once everyone was in place, Wes gave Blaine the signal and began the back-beat. Blaine pointed out his mark to Wes and then steeled himself for his performance. There was no way he could face Kurt and tell him that he didn’t want him. He was sure Kurt would see the lie in his eyes; hear the falseness in his words. This was the only way.

Midway through the first hook, Blaine began to lose himself in the performance. The showman in him took over and he put everything he had into seducing his prey with his song. He kept his eyes on his mark, afraid that if he saw Kurt, he’d lose his nerve.

As the song ended and Blaine found himself holding out a pair of socks to a bemused Gap worker, he suddenly remembered why he’d done this. He didn’t really hear the Gap-guy’s comment as he dropped the socks and turned to find Kurt. Instead, Wes was waiting for him while the remaining Warblers, unaware of the drama that had taken place, drifted out of the store towards their cars.

“He disappeared as soon as the song was over,” Wes said softly. “He’s probably waiting at the car.”

Blaine nodded numbly. There was no way Kurt could have missed the message he’d sent. The McKinley Glee club was about to regain their lost member.


~ * ~

Blaine watched through the window as Kurt loaded the last of his things in his car, took one last look at Dalton Academy and drove away. Even though he tried to tell himself that he’d done the right thing, his heart was telling him he was an idiot.

As he turned, Blaine saw Pavarotti perched in his cage, fluffing his wings. Seized by a sudden desire he couldn’t explain, Blaine picked up the cage and carried it outside. Jostled by the movement, the canary fluttered around the cage, protesting the unwelcome swaying of his normally stable home.

Once outside, Blaine carefully set the cage in an out-of-the-way corner and opened the door. It took a moment before Pavarotti realized what the open door meant. He continued to flutter around, eventually making his way to the doorsill. He paused for a moment as if testing the free air outside the confines of his cage and then, in a rapid flutter of wings, he was gone.

Blaine left the cage on the porch with the door opened. Perhaps Pavarotti would return, perhaps not. The decision was his, but the door would always be open for him if he did.


~ * ~

Wes couldn’t bring himself to berate Blaine for setting their mascot free. He wasn’t a deep person, but he understood the gesture so he went to the pet store and bought another canary without telling any of the other Warblers about the substitution. He and Blaine exchanged brief nods of acknowledgement over the new mascot, but nothing was ever spoken.

The Warblers were returning to the school from a public performance when Wes caught sight of a yellow blur in his peripheral vision. Blaine must have seen it as well because he was looking in the same direction with a small smile on his face.

As the rest of the team continued inside, Wes and Blaine stopped to listen to the distant canary song.

“He never sang like that when he was in the cage,” Wes observed softly.

Blaine smiled, a bit sadly. “He’s free to be who he was meant to be.”

They listened for a moment more and then Blaine inclined his head in silent acknowledgement. “The one that got away,” he whispered.

As Blaine turned to walk inside, shoulders hunched and head down, Wes knew his friend’s thoughts weren’t on the canary.

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