Characters/Pairing: Kurt/Mike, pretty much everyone else makes an appearance at some point
Rating: PG-13, but only for swearing
Word Count: ~4500 (this part)
Summary: After bringing his car to Hummel's Tire and Lube, Mike Chang begins to see Kurt Hummel in a new light. Kurt is similarly affected.
Notes:Assume spoilers through “Journey;” rampant abuse of the parenthetical; unrealistic teenage dialogue of Dawson's Creekian proportions (including slang that may or may not be 10 years out of date); oh, and I made Mike and Matt massive comics nerds for no real reason.
Written in response to this prompt at the glee_fluff_meme, though it quickly veered away from fluff and into moderately angsty character study. Oops.
Title shamelessly pilfered from here.
The first time Mike Chang brings his car to Hummel Tires and Lube, he has no expectation whatsoever of running into Kurt. He knows who owns the garage, of course. His choice was not random. But for all his mental images of Kurt (and there are far more than Mike would willingly admit to anyone but himself), wielding tools in grease stained coveralls hadn't even registered within the realm of possibility.
(Hours later, breathing heavily in the privacy of his own bedroom, he berates himself for his startling lack of imagination.)
Mike had put off having his oil changed so long that a week ago his dad started passive-aggressively questioning him about it every morning before school, so he decides to take advantage of a post-Regionals Glee-free afternoon to have it done. And if he just so happens to find out some interesting tidbit about Kurt from his dad to fan the flames of his (perfectly normal and not at all stalker-y) crush, well, that's no one's business but his own.
“Mike!” he hears almost as soon as he appears through the garage's main entrance. And there stands Kurt, wide smile brightened by the red glow of exertion painted across pale cheeks. Mike's hormone fueled brain instantly files the image away for future use. “What brings you by this fine afternoon?”
Mike pauses stock-still, his own cheeks heating a little at the undivided attention. He can't recall ever attracting much interest from the other boy outside of performances or rehearsals, so he's surprised (and delighted) to warrant such a warm reception from the infamously standoffish Kurt.
“Need to get the oil change I've been ignoring since before Sectionals,” he supplies, after fully taking in Kurt's well worn coveralls and the smudge of grease that Mike yearns to thumb clean from his jaw.
“That, we can do,” Kurt replies. Then, in an exaggerated stage whisper, he continues, “I might even be able to convince the big boss to let me top up your other fluids for free. Glee Club special.”
“I heard that,” comes a loud, but amused voice from underneath the body of one of those mid-range SUVs Mike can never tell apart. He manages to only jump a little.
Burt Hummel swiftly emerges, wiping his hands on a rag before holding one out to Mike in greeting.
“Dad, this is Mike Chang. He's our star dancer. He's going to win us Regionals next year once Quinn, Mercedes, and I finally convince Mr. Schuester to let him choreograph.”
This is news to Mike. His shock must register on his frustratingly expressive face because Kurt's smile widens and he starts to laugh.
“Don't look so surprised. Even Rachel agreed with us. Although she did reserve the right to veto if things got, and I quote, 'too street for show choir,'” Kurt continues with an exaggerated eye roll, earning a laugh from Mike, who can easily picture their female lead's lecture on appropriate dancing styles down to the sharp hand gestures and huffy hair flips.
“You boys need me to go down there and knock some sense into that idiot glee coach of yours again?” Mr. Hummel asks, his stern tone undermined by the crinkle at his eyes.
“I think we can handle it, Dad,” Kurt answers, but he beams so brightly at his father that Mike feels like he's intruding on something private. He also thinks Kurt has never looked so beautiful. (That's the only word he has for it, though he recognizes that Kurt would most likely kick him if he ever said it out loud.)
Watching Kurt with his dad is like catching a glimpse of an entirely different person. At school, he carries himself with a confidence Mike envies. But it's a defensive sort of confidence, practically daring onlookers to judge or question him. Here, in this dirty garage, under his dad's watchful and affectionate gaze, Kurt is relaxed and fully comfortable in his own skin. It makes a remarkable difference.
It feels somewhat ironic (although probably more in the fake Alanis Morissette sense than in the actual literary sense) seeing Kurt free and open like this at home and reticent and closed-off in Glee Club when Mike's experience has been pretty much the complete opposite. Glee Club was an awakening for him, and even though he's still fairly tentative and quiet when they aren't performing or he isn't cheering in awe of his amazingly talented peers, he never feels as true to himself as he does with New Directions. (Except for with Matt, of course. That's what best friends are for.)
At home, he still struggles to be what his parents expect of him. He goes to church, earns fairly decent grades, plays the right sports, keeps what his father refers to disdainfully as his “hoodlum stomping” behind closed doors, and brings home pretty, popular girls from the Celibacy Club to meet his mother.
Actually, he gave up on the last two not long after he joined Glee Club, an uncharacteristically impulsive move he has yet to share with his parents for the sake of continued familial harmony. Citing first extended football and then basketball and baseball practices for his new time commitments, he even resorted to paying Puck to forge his permission slips for anything related to the club. Thankfully, Puck isn't curious about much beyond his narrow range of self interest (also known as his dick) and has yet to bother asking why.
Mike can't escape a pang of hurt at witnessing how Kurt blossoms under his gruff father's unconditional acceptance, knowing with certainty that he will have no such experience when (if) he decides to come out to his family. As it stands, he lives in continual dread of the day his parents will actually see more of him than they want to see, their willful blindness the shaky foundation that threatens to undercut and erode his newfound confidence and happiness.
He's startled from what must have been a lengthy reverie by a pointed cough from Kurt's dad and a brief, barely there squeeze at his elbow from Kurt. Mike often gets lost in his head, a habit forged during a lonely childhood and reinforced by a combination of innate shyness and years of practiced blending into the athletic herd. He isn't used to anyone but Matt catching him, though, so he reflexively ducks his head to his chest, stammering an apology and some excuse about not sleeping well the night before.
When he darts a glance up, he finds matching looks of disbelief that would probably be hilarious under other circumstances.
“Why don't you drive your car around and we'll get it taken care of,” suggests Mr. Hummel gently.
“Thanks,” Mike murmurs to his feet and promptly flees with incongruous grace, his body always cooperative in ways the rest of him can't quite achieve, toward the exit.
“Any idea what that was about?” Burt asks as soon as the door closes behind Mike's retreating back.
“Not a clue,” Kurt replies, biting his lip contemplatively.
He doesn't know Mike very well outside of Glee Club, but he can't help feeling a little concerned. Brittany had once remarked with surprising insight that Mike could never tell a lie because every emotion he feels shows up on his face. He had definitely been rocking some serious melancholy when he spaced out.
“Mike is probably the sweetest guy in school,” Kurt reflects a few moments later. “He's always the first and most enthusiastic person to stand and cheer when someone else is performing and he stays late after almost every practice to help the weaker dancers learn the steps. And by 'weaker dancers,' I of course mean Finn.”
His dad's eyebrows had climbed in a far from innocent fashion during Kurt's description.
Kurt narrows his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest. “I can call a guy sweet without it meaning anything, you know.”
“Sure,” his dad replies with a smirk.
Instead of rising to the bait, he turns on a heel and haughtily glides across the garage to get the ramps set up for Mike's car. If his dad was just going to make fun of him, Kurt would have to figure out this Mike situation on his own.
Mike dawdles as long as possible in moving his car, trying to psych himself up to go back inside. He can do this. He is perfectly capable of driving back in there and behaving like a normal person. Matt agrees with him when Mike calls to ask for independent confirmation.
After pulling the car through the rear garage door, he parks in the spot Kurt indicates, Mr. Hummel apparently having disappeared underneath the soulless SUV once again.
“Sorry to make you wait. Phone call,” Mike explains.
“Is everything okay?” Kurt asks, trying to sound casual and failing completely.
“Oh yeah. Just Matt freaking out about an English paper.” Matt freaks out about English papers all the time, so he can draw on lived experience to make the lie convincing if necessary.
Kurt's eyebrows seem skeptical, which in Mike's experience is a near habitual state for them, but the rest of him is willing to let it go. “Okay then. I'm going to get this up on the ramps and get started. It shouldn't take me more than twenty minutes. There's soda or truly horrific coffee in the waiting area and a table if you want to do homework or something while you wait.”
“You're going to do it by yourself?” Mike asks stupidly. And then he cringes in the face of Kurt's suddenly icy glare.
“What? Did you think the outfit was a fashion statement? Automotive chic fresh from the runways of Milan?” Kurt demands archly.
“No, no, no!” Mike stammers, eyes blown wide in genuine panic. “That's not...I didn't mean...I wouldn't...I don't think...it's just...”
He must look on the edge of hysteria because Kurt's anger fades as quickly as it had come, overtaken by confusion.
“Mike,” Kurt says firmly, light pressure back on his elbow, trying to get him to raise his eyes from a staring contest with an oil stain on the concrete floor. “It's alright.”
Mike closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I didn't mean it like that.”
“What did you mean?” Kurt asks, cautious, but no longer openly hostile.
Mike forces himself to look at Kurt directly when he answers.
“I don't know anything about cars. Obviously. I just assumed an oil change would be a two man job or something. That you and your dad would do it together.” He hears the misery in his voice and hopes that Kurt won't read too much into it beyond Mike's sincere desire not to insult him.
“Oh.” Kurt blinks. “No, it's really easy. I've done a million of these.”
“I didn't know. I'm so sorry. I really wasn't saying..”
Kurt cuts him off. “I believe you. It's alright,” he repeats, and he's smiling again, so it probably is.
“I can help.” Apparently he's aiming for a record in stupid comments for the day. Though, since Kurt now lives with Finn, Mike imagines he's used to it.
And then he immediately feels guilty for thinking that about his good friend. He may still be little bitter about the months he spent with front row seats to the “Kurt Fawning Over Finn Show.” Just a little.
For his part, Kurt appears more amused than annoyed by Mike's verbal idiocy.
“You admit to knowing nothing about cars, but you want to help me do the simple, routine job you're going to pay me for?”
Kurt's look is assessing. “How good are you at handling tools?”
Mike snorts involuntarily, his sense of humor irredeemably impaired by too many hours in the locker room. He savors the blush that immediately rises on Kurt's cheeks, though.
“I probably couldn't name them, but if you point, I can carry,” Mike replies with an unconscious grin. His heart speeds up again at Kurt's easy answering smile.
“Fair enough,” Kurt allows. “Let's see about introducing you to your new friend the internal combustion engine.”
Falling into an occasionally stilted, but generally companionable banter, Kurt colorfully narrates what he does to the car, while Mike tries to listen attentively, ask what he hopes are only marginally stupid questions, and avoid staring too obviously when Kurt bends over.
The oil change takes well over an hour.
Kurt is still pondering the details of what had turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon with Mike by the time he arrives at Mercedes' house to watch Project Runway with the Glee girls. It had started out just he and Mercedes, but then Quinn had moved in and Brittany followed them home one afternoon. The next week Brittany brought Santana and Kurt called Tina. No one has yet to invite Rachel. It wasn't an explicitly acknowledged decision, but it feels like one.
When Kurt fails to make the requisite number of comments about how designers who dress like hobos should never be taken seriously, Mercedes grabs the remote and pauses the TIVO.
“Okay, Hummel. Spill it.”
“Hmm?” Kurt replies distractedly.
“Whatever has got you angsting over there in emoboy corner,” Mercedes explains. “But, it'd better not be about Finn again. Between you and Q, I really can't handle any more straight boy drama in my life.”
“What? No! I was just thinking about Mike Chang.”
“Kurt, what did I just say?”
“Not like that,” Kurt insists, waving his hand dismissively. Mostly not, at any rate. A solid 85%, he's sure. “He brought his car to my dad's shop today and was acting really weird.”
“Weird how?” Quinn asks. She looks genuinely concerned. He's still getting used to seeing that from her.
“Did he talk? Because that would be weird,” Tina observes.
“Mike talks to me all the time,” counters Brittany. “He says I don't need to use sex for external validation of my self-worth.”
After the standard pause to let Brittany's comment clear from the air, Kurt continues. “We were talking with my dad about Glee Club and he completely checked out and got this heartbroken look on his face. Then, he nearly hyperventilated when I yelled at him.”
“Why in the world would you yell at Mike?” Quinn's face darkens into a much more familiar glare.
“He made some comment about me being able to change his oil and I thought he was prejudging me.” Quinn's face softens a bit. So bizarre. “He freaked and flailed and said he just thought it was a more difficult job than it actually is.”
“Sounds like he was worried about offending you. That's not so strange, is it?” asks Tina.
“From a football player in Lima, Ohio?”
“Okay, point,” acknowledges Quinn. “But Mike's never been like the rest of those guys. Matt either, for the most part. Surely you figured that much out from being in Glee Club with them, if not before.”
“I guess I just don't know him all that well,” Kurt concedes with a frown. Then, as an afterthought, “He does seem entirely too good to be true, though.”
“Here we go again,” Mercedes groans.
If Kurt were a slightly meaner person or if he loved Mercedes a little less, he would point out how very little room she had to comment on this particular subject. As it stands, he can't quite bring himself to correct her presumption. Instead he snags the remote and tries to commit himself fully to the comforting ritual of vicious mockery.
He's at home in bed, replaying the afternoon over in his head for the hundredth time against the soundtrack of Finn's light snoring, when he realizes that throughout the entire Mike conversation, the normally hyper-opinionated Santana hadn't uttered a single word. It's a disconcerting realization, but he has absolutely no idea what to make of it.
Mike thinks about going back to the garage more frequently than he probably should for days afterward. He really doesn't have enough money saved to start intentionally breaking parts of his car in order to have Kurt fix them. And the fact that he even contemplates doing so is a troubling enough prospect to put aside for further scrutiny later.
He also briefly considers asking his parents if they need one of their cars serviced. Then, like the shock of a cold shower blast, he reminds himself that, even though they generally content themselves with armchair parenting via mealtime inquisitions and lectures, his mom and dad had paid alarmingly close attention to Kurt's scandalous (and amazing, if you bothered to ask Mike) tenure on the football team.
Their disapproving commentary had been pointed enough to make him sick with worry that they had suspicions about his own sexual orientation. It was also, perversely, the decisive push he needed to commit to his silent rebellion of joining Glee Club. In the end, they never said anything about him directly and the comments died down until they all settled back into a tacitly negotiated state of plausible deniability.
The point is, his parents most certainly wouldn't approve of his choice in mechanics, so that particular option is off the table.
Mike idly browses a few Toyota forums for any reasonably intelligent questions about his car that could justify a trip to the garage. Kurt had seemed, after their initial miscommunication, to find Mike's complete lack of automotive knowledge charming. Or condescendingly amusing. It's hard to tell with him sometimes.
Anyway, Mike is certain that if he continues to show an interest in Kurt's after school job, where his emotional defenses are so obviously lowered, Kurt will eventually see him as more than “the dancing guy” or “one of the football players in Glee.” Once that happens, he will undoubtedly see what an awesome boyfriend Mike would make. It's a brilliant plan.
“You're an idiot,” Matt helpfully points out from behind the newest Avengers book upon learning of Mike's brilliant plan.
“Do you have a better idea, peanut gallery?” Mike asks, launching a stress ball he finds on Matt's desk at his unsuspecting best friend's head.
“You mean besides telling him you like him and asking him out?”
Mike just looks at him.
“Right. You'd probably spontaneously combust if you tried,” Matt admits. “I guess you could always try coming out and hope that Azimio and Karofsky decide to key your car instead of threatening to beat the shit out of you.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a fool-proof strategy. What could possibly go wrong?”
“Careful. Now you even sound like him. I don't think you knew what sarcasm was before you started following Hummel around. If you show up here wearing a $200 scarf, I'm staging an intervention.”
Mike huffs exaggeratedly. “This is why my people gravitate toward women for friendship instead of callously unsympathetic straight dudes.”
“I'd find that 'my people' argument a lot more convincing if you actually told anyone other than me that you're gay,” Matt returns, unphased.
Mike loves Matt. He really is the best, most supportive friend a guy could hope to have. Hell, he voluntarily committed social suicide for Mike (even though he totally loves Glee as much as Mike does now). But he really doesn't have the first clue about the complexities of Mike's situation. Matt is inexplicably optimistic about the reception Mike would receive if he came out at school, despite his eyewitness knowledge of the time Kurt spent occupying dumpsters around campus. Apparently, he just can't fathom anyone turning against Mike for any reason. It's both incredibly sweet and endlessly frustrating.
“Santana knows,” Mike offers by way of redirection.
“That's right,” Matt recalls with a smirk. “She told you, then you told me.”
In eighth grade, Santana had informed Mike that he was taking her to the Christmas dance. When she found his enthusiasm for their behind the bleachers make-out session lacking, she told him she'd always wanted a gay friend to take her shopping. She even let him cry a little bit before rolling her eyes and telling him to man up.
“By the way,” Matt continues, “why hasn't she tried to use that information to force you into indentured servitude yet?”
“She claims that humiliating me would be like punching a kitten. Or Miss Pillsbury.”
“Yeah,” Mike agrees. “Emasculation is totally her superpower.”
The conversation quickly devolves into a lively debate over what comic book characters the various members of Glee Club would be, a discursive turn that often occurs when Mike and Matt are left to their own devices (“With your massive hard-on for Blue Beetle, it's a wonder I didn't figure out you were gay when we were 12.” “Jaime Reyes fucking owns! Also, shut up”). Unfortunately, Mike remains no closer to finding a good excuse to go back to see Kurt at Mr. Hummel's garage.
With Glee rehearsals finished for the year and no shared classes, Kurt doesn't see much of Mike over the next week. When they pass each other in the halls, though, Mike always greets him with an acknowledging nod and a broad, warm smile that Kurt can't help returning, usually accompanied by a reflexive and painfully dorky half-wave.
He absently hopes that Mike won't end up in a dumpster by association if anyone happens to pay too close attention to them.
As nice as these exchanges are, if his life, or the lives of his most treasured accessories, depended on it, Kurt couldn't honestly say whether the friendly smiles were a new phenomena. The warm flutterings these greetings inspire all too quickly sour when he thinks about how little attention he paid Mike before the afternoon in the shop.
Kurt has fully accepted that his ill-conceived and tragically embarrassing “fixation” on Finn left him blind to many of the things going on around him. His myopia seems a particular travesty in light of the long hours of sweaty dance rehearsals featuring four, rather than just one, hot football players in his immediate vicinity. And Kurt choosing to focus on the least coordinated (and limber) one of the lot.
Libidinous drives aside, Kurt also recognizes what in retrospect may have been efforts on the part of both Mike and Matt to befriend him after they joined New Directions. He was serious when he told his dad that Mike was the sweetest guy in school; he had noticed that much at any rate. But at the time, it was easy to dismiss the unsolicited dancing tips, requests for his advice in completing Mr. Schuester's endless (and random) assignments, and enthusiastic complements after group and solo performances (and occasionally over a particularly fabulous outfit). Mike and Matt were nice to everyone, and Kurt just happened to be there.
And while he never rebuffed their attentions in any way stronger than a dubious glance, he certainly hadn't encouraged them. For all the inroads he made in befriending the Cheerio, and former Cheerio, contingent in Glee Club, and to a lesser degree Rachel Berry herself, he hadn't given much thought at all to the two guys in the group who had never been anything but nice to him.
Of course, there was a very good reason that the only jocks Kurt tended to pay close attention to (other than Finn) were those he needed to avoid, the slushie bearers and the dumpster fetishists. Avoiding eye contact with guys that could lift him over their head without much effort was a carefully honed survival instinct. As repentant as Puck comes across these days, Kurt would be hard pressed to feel completely safe around him any time soon. If his friends happened to be tarnished with the same brush by virtue of their association with Kurt's former tormentor, well, it was totally understandable.
So, Kurt doesn't quite feel guilty for having failed to pay much attention to Mike (and Matt, he forces himself to remember) in the past. It's just that he is now being forced to revise his longstanding worldview to accommodate new information and with that came a vague, but powerful sense of having missed something important.
Quickly tiring of this less than flattering introspection, Kurt decides that the best way to make up for past oversights is to leave it behind and move forward. And for reasons he isn't willing to scrutinize too closely just yet, moving forward points squarely in the direction of Mike Chang.
When he catches sight of the lanky dancer's frame ahead of him on the way to the parking lot after school, he hears himself calling out an embarrassingly shrill “Mike!” before he has consciously decided on a specific course of action.
Mike tenses at the sound of his name and looks around cautiously, but relaxes immediately when he sees Kurt. With a surprised smile (he really can't hide anything), he stops and waits for Kurt to catch up.
“So, I noticed a few scratches on your car when we were working on it the other day,” Kurt says when he reaches the other boy, a plan evolving in his mind as he speaks.
Mike's brow furrows, but Kurt continues quickly to reassure him. “It's nothing serious, I promise. Just your inevitable parking lot injuries.”
Mike nods and tries to smile, but it comes across more confused than anything.
Kurt pushes on. “The only reason I bring it up is that I have been doing inventory at my dad's shop and I think I might have an old container of touch up that would be perfect for your car. It was part of a kit and too small to sell off by itself, so you can have it, if you wanted to come by and pick it up.”
Kurt hopes that doesn't sound as flimsy an excuse to Mike as it does to himself. It had seemed more “helpful friend” and less “creepy pervert trying to lure you to his lair” in his head.
Mike takes Kurt at face value though, and agrees enthusiastically. “That'd be great, man. You'll show me what I need to do to make sure it turns out okay, right?”
“That's what they pay me for,” Kurt replies, aiming for nonchalant. Then thinks about what he said, and stammers, “Not that you would be paying me. Because I offered. Totally free.”
He might have actually face palmed if not for deeply ingrained concerns about state of his complexion.
Mike's warm hand gives his shoulder a quick, manly pat, and with a smile that isn't the least bit mocking replies, “Awesome. You rock. Tomorrow after school good?”
“I'll be there,” answers Kurt shakily, still a bit flustered, though whether from his verbal gaffe or the physical contact, he chooses not to examine.