They met at the very end of Jesse's sophomore year of high school.

It's been a tradition for as long as anyone can remember. Ms. Corcoran gathered all the members of Vocal Adrenaline together to announce who their leads would be for the next year, and to re-audition those who did not make the lead positions. After the current members of the club have auditioned, it was opened up to the rest of the school. It would take hours, sometimes lasting for more than one day, but by the last day of school, they would have their team for the following year.

It was a binding contract, landing a place in Vocal Adrenaline. If you were accepted, you weren't allowed to change your mind or change schools. One girl had even moved in with a friend halfway through the previous school year because her family had moved a state over. Some would say this was unfair to new students to the school, because typically they didn't get to try for a spot until their second year at Carmel, but that was how things worked and no amount of complaining would change that.

The announcement that Jesse was to be their lead for the following year as well shocks nobody. One girl, who was to be a senior and who had been hoping for the glory spot, left in a huff, but the others just clapped politely and muttered about how obvious that had been. A couple seniors were announced to be staying on for another year, their backup female lead was announced, and then it was time for auditions.

Jesse didn't have to stick around for these, of course. He'd secured his spot and was free to go, to ignore Vocal Adrenaline's existence until the list was posted on the last day of school, but that was no fun. He liked watching people trip over themselves and their lines while trying for a spot. He was a big believer in Schadenfreude. Blame Avenue Q for that one.

And this time looked as if it would pay off, because they had quite the group of failures auditioning. Half of them couldn't even hold a tune and were asked to leave after five notes, something Jesse watched with rapt interest one might equate with a compelling movie. He could have brought along popcorn and there was his entertainment for the next day or so.

They did have some genuinely talented kids trying out too, of course. Everyone who had been in the club that past year re-auditioned, except for the seniors who didn't feel like flunking. There was a boy Jesse remember seeing on crutches this time last year now trying for a spot, and his voice was nice, though his dancing definitely needed work. A couple girls from the gymnastics team seemed to have decided to try as some sort of group pact, but none of them were particularly musically gifted, so Jesse used their audition slots as his bathroom break.

Which was when he ran into Carmel's principal.

"Mr. St. James," Principal Jeffries said in a booming, jovial voice, reaching out to shake his hand. "Auditions going well, I trust?"

"Fairly well, Mr. Jeffries," Jesse shrugged a shoulder. "Of course, you'll be looking at this mug of mine for another year in the lead slot, so of course it's not all bad." He laughed, and Principal Jeffries laughed too, and it was then that Jesse realized that there was another boy with him.

"Jesse, this is Blaine Anderson," Principal Jeffries seemed to remember Blaine's existence right as Jesse noticed him, stepping to the side a little so the two boys were standing directly in front of one another. "Blaine, this is Jesse St. James, the pride and joy of Carmel's pride and joy, Vocal Adrenaline."

"New transfer?" Jesse asked, sticking out his hand.

"Yes," Blaine nodded, taking Jesse's hand and giving it a firm squeeze.

"Jesse, why don't you take Blaine with you to see some auditions?" Principal Jeffries suggested, like it was the most perfect idea to ever been thought. "No doubt he'd enjoy seeing the best of the best."

"Shame all of VA's already gone, then," Jesse said honestly, but he did indeed, lead Blaine into the auditorium, Principal Jeffries asking Blaine to meet him back in his office once they were done.

"You must be pretty special," Jesse said conversationally as they walked into the auditorium, noticing there was a pause between auditions, probably because Ms. Corcoran had finally gotten a headache from all the off-pitch singing. "Mr. Jeffries never shows new students around himself. Did you miss the tour with the other eighth graders or something?"

"I'll be a sophomore come fall, actually," Blaine corrected him. "I'm transferring from another school across the district."

"Can't say I blame you," Jesse grinned, sitting down two seats in, gesturing for Blaine to follow. He did just that, choosing to sit on the aisle rather than the seat next to Jesse. "Carmel does offer wonderful opportunities for music, if you're into that sort of thing. Can't say I pay much attention to the academics, but hey, if I'm pulling a 4.0 without any help from the Asian kids, then they can't exactly be top of the line, can they?"

"What exactly is going on in here?" Blaine asked, looking at the single spotlight on the stage and the abandoned desk that Ms. Corcoran usually occupied.

"Vocal Adrenaline auditions," Jesse pointed to where a few of the old members were sitting. "You have to have heard of us. We're only the best show choir in the state."

"Yes," Blaine nodded. "Wow, auditions already? That's a bit… well…"

"Different," Jesse supplied, "we know. But this way gives us the whole summer to make sure we're acquainted with everyone else, so come fall we work like a well-oiled machine. And just in case you didn't catch this from before, I'm the male lead, for two years in a row now."

"Very nice," Blaine looked over at him, nodding. "Yeah, you do look familiar now… I think I came to an invitational once. Or something like that. My old school didn't have a show choir, but we did have a regular chorus class. That was fun." He looked over at the stage, eyes raising to where the spotlight was coming from. "Can anyone audition?"

"You're not thinking of trying, are you?" Jesse almost laughed. "You don't audition for Vocal Adrenaline on a whim, Blaine."

"Why not?" Blaine looked back over at him, his smile now almost mischievous. "Is no one allowed to be that good?"

Jesse did laugh this time. Blaine couldn't be serious about this. Prospective members would practice for weeks, if not months, before deeming themselves ready to audition. Jesse himself had slaved over choosing his audition song for all of eighth grade, signing up for every sort of dance class that was taught in Akron to better his chances when asked to do a routine. There was no way some boy who didn't even seem to know what VA was could get in after trying out on a whim. He wasn't even dressed properly, Jesse now noticed, looking him up and down.

"Could I borrow some shoes?" Blaine asked, seeming to have realized why Jesse was looking him over.

"From who?" Jesse raised an eyebrow.

"From anyone," Blaine shrugged a shoulder. "I'll have to dance, right?"

Jesse stared. Apparently he was serious. Well, this would be good for a laugh, if anything, so Jesse stood up and waved over a boy named Van, who had just been flunked, even though he had only been a junior, to keep him around longer.

"Yeah?" Van asked, looking from Jesse to Blaine, his entire face lighting up. Jesse knew that Blaine was going to be in for a welcome-to-Carmel-my-name's-Van-let's-be-best-friends-okay? speech if he didn't stop the other before he got started, so he did just that, asking quickly, "Van, could you take Blaine backstage and get him some appropriate clothing for the dance part of the audition?"

"Sure," Van beamed at them. "He a friend of yours, Jess?"

"We just met three minutes ago," Jesse chuckled, shaking his head and watching Van seize Blaine's hand and shake it excitedly, already talking the other's ear off as soon as they began walking.

Jesse watched them go, his eyes not leaving them until Van pushed back one of the curtains onstage so Blaine could go to the designated changing area. Then he gave himself a little shake, chuckling and saying softly, "No way. He's not going to get it."

Ms. Corcoran came back after about two minutes, and auditions resumed. There were two girls from the gymnastics team that had yet to go, but they were dismissed with a wave of Ms. Corcoran's hand, as she told them to come back when they knew how to hold a tune. Then Van came out, bounding across the stage like a cross between a gazelle and a troll, jumped down from the stage, and ran all the way up the aisle to where Ms. Corcoran was sitting, whispering something to her.

She sighed, then called, "Blaine Anderson."

Blaine came out, looking a bit ridiculous in the strange array of clothes Van had managed to procure for him, wearing a fairly normal pair of dance shoes, but he'd swapped his khakis for Van's favorite pair of practice pants, the tie-dye ones that everyone laughed at but put up with because Van was, well, Van. He'd stripped down to a T-shirt, presumably having had it under his button-down shirt and sweater. He looked a mess, like a rag doll that had its clothes chosen by a colorblind four-year-old, but he carried himself with confidence anyway.

"Thank you, Ms. Corcoran," Blaine smiled. "My name is Blaine Anderson and I'll be singing 'Be Our Guest' from Beauty and the Beast."

Jesse buried his face in his hands to stifle his laughter. This boy clearly had no idea what he was doing. 'Be Our Guest' was a good song, sure, but using it to audition for the state's most rigorous show choir? He was going to look like a woobie, like a child who didn't know how the world worked. He actually had to wipe his eyes when he looked back up, wanting to watch this debacle for himself.

And it actually wasn't half bad. Blaine had a good voice, he would admit that much, but he wasn't quite in control of it. He didn't seem to know what to do with himself, so he just sort of stood still while gesturing to the almost empty auditorium. His stage presence needed work, oh yes, and if his current stationary state was any indication of his dancing prowess, he'd need a lot of work on that, too. But his voice was nice. Jesse would give him that one.

"Thank you, Mr. Anderson, you may wait backstage," Ms. Corcoran decided, which was her way of saying, 'Congratulations, kid, your voice is good enough for me to keep you around for now.' She made a few notes on her notepad, then added, "You'll be with group number six for the dancing part of the audition."

"Thank you," Blaine bobbed in a sort of half-bow before leaving the stage.

That was when Jesse left. He never stuck around for the dance part of the auditions, anyway. That was when some of the senior members taught the audition groups a simple routine to assess their basic skills, and while Jesse was their male lead, dancing had never been his forte. He was no use to anyone when it came to teaching dance routines; he followed and relied on his voice to do most of the work. It wasn't like he couldn't dance, because it would be doing him a great disservice to assume that was the case, just that it didn't come as second nature.

Jesse didn't pay much mind to Vocal Adrenaline hopefuls for the rest of that week, only deciding he cared on the last day of school when the list was posted. His name was right at the top, announced as their lead for the following year, and then the rest of the members were listed alphabetically below him.

Blaine Anderson's name was first on the list.

And Blaine Anderson himself was walking down the hallway, smiling and actually waving to someone Jesse didn't know, probably someone who had been in his dance group during auditions.

"Did I make it?" he asked, coming to a halt beside Jesse.

"Why are you here?" Jesse asked rather than answering.

"I had to check the list, didn't I?" Blaine put a finger over Jesse's name, then moved it down, grinning when he revealed his own name mere seconds later. "So I decided to come in. I couldn't go all summer without knowing. That would just be counter-productive. Van told me that you all use the summer to get to know one another, so how silly would it be if I just… never showed up and was a complete stranger come fall?"

"Fair point," Jesse shrugged. "I just can't believe they let you in during school hours."

"My parents can be very persuasive when they want something," Blaine said, as if commenting on the weather. "So I guess I'll be seeing a lot of you this summer, then?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Jesse agreed without really thinking about what he was saying.

"Great," Blaine beamed at him, in a way that reminded him so much of Van that it was almost creepy. He stuck out a hand and Jesse took it, shaking it firmly. "It will be my pleasure to be your teammate, Jesse."

Jesse decided right then and there that he didn't like Blaine Anderson.

In all fairness, he had no reason to dislike the other boy. Blaine had been perfectly nice to him, but there was something about the way he carried himself that Jesse found annoying. Every little idiosyncrasy that he came to learn about over the summer was marked down as another reason to dislike the boy, from the way he plastered his hair to his skull to the way he would pretend not to realize when he started singing spontaneously. Jesse decided that Blaine was a show off who wanted to take his spot as male lead, and while some of Vocal Adrenaline just called him paranoid, a few others actually did seem to agree with him.

"He's a complete slime ball," a boy named Jason agreed, looking over at where Blaine was sitting with the three freshmen-to-be that had made it into Vocal Adrenaline. "He's trying to get in with the newbies to corrupt them."

"See?" Jesse shook his head, back turned to Blaine and pointedly ignoring the fact that the other was there. "I don't like him. I just don't like him. Not one bit."

And as the summer went on, it became more and more obvious that Jesse was right. At first the entire club had gotten together once a week, going bowling or out for pizza, getting to know the new members and keep in touch with the old ones. It was how they did things; once a week all summer the entire club got together to promote camaraderie.

But now, it seemed as though whenever Jesse announced what their plans were, the new members always had excuses to miss it. Soon it ended up being just the members that had been in the club the previous year, and while the newbies said their pets were sick or their mothers needed help, Jesse spotted them all more than once, running about the city with Blaine Anderson leading the way.

He was clearly planning a mutiny before the year had even started, and Jesse would not have that.

So he flaunted his position as male lead, telling the newer members that he was severely disappointed in their lack of team spirit and that he would, of course, be reporting all of this to Ms. Corcoran at the beginning of the year, so they might want to wise up if they wanted to keep their spots. He hadn't said anything to Blaine, of course, because he wanted to have something terrible to say about him at the beginning of the year, but it seemed that he was too late. Wherever Blaine went, the newbies followed.

For the first time, Jesse didn't even know everyone's names during the first practice. He had never been very good with names, but a decent lead knows all of his supporting team members' names, so he'd worked on committing them all to memory two years in a row. But now here he was, standing in the middle of the group, and all those smaller kids over there with Blaine were just nameless faces. He hadn't gotten to know any of them at all, barely remembering any of them from the scant amount of time they'd spent together during those first few weeks of summer before Blaine had stepped in and ruined everything.

Ms. Corcoran started their first rehearsal by lecturing them on their failure of a summer, something that made Jesse smirk proudly. She told the newer members that if they weren't willing to do things her way, they could say goodbye to their spot. There were plenty of people who wanted to be in Vocal Adrenaline, she reasoned, so it wouldn't exactly be a challenge to replace them.

"You all were given your spots not just because you're talented, but because I was under the impression that you all were team players, that you wanted to be part of this team. If any of you no longer feel that way, there is the door." She pointed, but nobody moved.

The rest of that first rehearsal was spent re-auditioning everyone except Jesse to see where they would fall into the club's hierarchy. They needed lead dancers, backup vocals, featured vocals, and reserve members. Nobody wanted to be a reserve member, because you were unlikely to actually end up performing onstage regardless of the fact you had to attend every practice, so this audition was taken just as seriously as the first.

Jesse didn't stick around for these either, leaving and returning to school the next morning to look at the list posted on the auditorium door. As expected, Van and three other members who had been flunked had received the top dancing spots. His name was still at the top of the list as lead, but now they had featured singers listed beneath him. The featured singers were some of the most important members, because if anything were to happen to Jesse, they were next in line for his lead position.

And Blaine's name was there.

Jesse burst into the auditorium, already speaking even though he didn't know if Ms. Corcoran was actually there.

"What on earth made you put Blaine as a featured singer? Nobody gets that their first year in the club, nobody, and he's already the reason that all of our freshman don't feel like part of the team, because he spent the entire summer corrupting them and telling them that teamwork doesn't matter and he's probably plotting to ruin us right this second!"

"Jesse St. James, I thought you'd be taking this better."

Ms. Corcoran was indeed there, sitting off to the side, a stack of papers in her lap. She motioned for him to come over, so he did, trying his hardest not to stomp on his way there.

"Sit," she ordered, so he obeyed.

"Blaine's a good singer," she told him. "A very good singer. And if your voice goes, I want one like his replacing it."

"But he's–"

"Jesse, I know you don't care for him, but I have to do what's best for the club."

"What's best for the club or what's best for Blaine?" Jesse countered, his eyes flashing. Ms. Corcoran paused, licking her top lip then making a clucking noise, shaking her head.

"What's best for the club."

"I don't believe you." He stood up, walking back out of the auditorium, but Ms. Corcoran said something to make him stop.

"You didn't deserve the male lead spot last year."

"Excuse me?" Jesse turned, heart thudding painfully and his cheeks flaring.

"Last year, when I made you the first sophomore male lead this club has ever had, you weren't the best suited for the job," Ms. Corcoran explained. "Eddie was the best candidate, Eddie the senior who had worked his butt off for three years, was more suited for the job than you were. Ask me why I gave it to you instead."

"Why did you give it to me instead?" Jesse asked, his voice quiet.

"Because you wanted it more, and I knew that if I gave it to you, you would stop at nothing to being the best this school has ever seen. I knew, that if you had that spot, you would work so hard that within two months you would already be the best male lead we've ever had, and much better suited for it than Eddie. So I gave it to you, trusting that you would do just that, and that's exactly what you did."

"Oh," was all Jesse said, not quite sure how he was supposed to take the news that his own director hadn't thought he was the prodigy he'd assumed everyone saw him as.

"I make decisions based on more than just talent," Ms. Corcoran informed him. "I make them based on drive, and you and Blaine have the same drive. I can just see it in the pair of you. The two of you thrive on being special, on being placed a cut above the rest, and I knew then that giving you the lead spot would make both you and this club unstoppable. So you'll excuse me for giving the boy that will be our male lead once you're gone the spot he deserves."

They stared at each other, the tension so alive that Jesse feared it might snap at his fingers were he to reach out into the space between them.

"I believe this matter has been settled, Mr. St. James," Ms. Corcoran finally spoke.

"Indeed it has, Ms. Corcoran," Jesse retorted, tipping his chin upward slightly before turning on his heel and actually leaving this time.

Blaine was standing outside of the auditorium with a girl Jesse recognized from yesterday. She was giggling at something Blaine had clearly just said, one of her hands resting on the list of names, further down the page, presumably near her own name. She caught sight of him over Blaine's shoulder, and the giggling died away as if someone had just stolen her voice. Blaine turned.

"Oh, Jesse," he smiled, but it didn't quite meet his eyes. "We were just talking about you."

Jesse didn't know why he did it, but the next thing he knew, he had a fistful of Blaine's shirt and had rammed him back against the auditorium door, the girl squealing and jumping out of the way.

"Let me make something clear, Anderson," Jesse's voice was low, face inches from Blaine's and his eyes locked on the other's. "I am the male lead of Vocal Adrenaline. You may have been able to parade around Akron over the summer playing Mister Nice Guy with all the newbies, but that won't swing in this auditorium. This is my auditorium, my stage, my show choir. Because at the end of the day, that list has me as lead and you as featured, and nothing you do will change that."

"You talk a big game, Jesse," Blaine actually laughed in his face, "but as far as I can remember, we haven't heard you sing in quite a while. It would be a shame if you let your frustrations harm a voice that's out of practice."

Jesse wanted to dig into his backpack and pull out his strategic schedule he followed down to the minute in order to keep his voice fine-tuned in Vocal Adrenaline's absence, wanted Blaine to see just how hard he had worked and was still working for his spot, but that would be playing right into his hands. That was what Blaine wanted; for Jesse to show that he was threatened.

So Jesse just smirked, letting go of Blaine's shirt and taking a few steps backwards, saying, "You're right. I haven't sung in quite a while. That's because I don't flaunt it for everyone to see, like some half-naked whore."

He walked away before Blaine could say anything more, almost stomping down the hallway to get to his locker. Students stared and crowds parted to let him through, none of them wanting to end up with squashed toes. Jesse unlocked his locker and yanked at it with such force that he was surprised it hadn't come off the hinges, then promptly let out a groan and banged his head against the back of it.

"I hate Blaine Anderson," he told his locker, closing his eyes and just standing there, his head inside his locker, trying to block out the noise of everyone around him.

"Hey Jesse!" a bright, cheerful voice greeted him, making him extricate his head to glare at the only person who could be that happy when talking to someone with his head in his locker.

"Hello, Van," he told the other, rolling his eyes.

"So, did you see the list yet?" Van asked, not waiting for an answer before continuing. "It's, like, super cool that you get to be lead again. I mean, we all knew that was gonna happen since, like, forever, but it's nice to, like, officially have the same guy two years in a row. And the rest of the lineup looks solid, dude, like, we've got this thing in the bag already and it's only the second day of–"

"Oh my God, Van, shut up," Jesse snapped, slamming his locker closed. "You are so annoying and you just need to learn when to close your mouth. And you might want to shave your head too; it looks like a mop took up residence on your head."

It took seeing the sunny, always-happy Van looking upset for Jesse to realize what he'd just done.

"Funny," Van forced a smile, tugging on a lock of his own barely-shoulder-length hair. "Last time you commented on it you said I was one of the few guys who could actually pull off the hippie hair thing." Van swallowed. "You said it matched my 'already hippie-esque personality,' remember?"

"Van, I just…" Jesse bit his lip, never one for apologies or having to explain himself. "It's Blaine. I think he's after my spot."

"Jesse," Van sighed, "you're an idiot if you think, like, he'd gonna get it. Nobody wants him, dude. We all want you. In the, like, totally platonic male lead way. Obviously."

"The freshmen don't," Jesse pointed out.

"And how many of them actually made the real team?" Van prompted. Jesse said nothing; he hadn't actually looked at the rest of the list, knowing he probably wouldn't recognize all the names if he had.

"You're right," Jesse finally said. "Our resident hippie always does end up saying the right thing." He smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes, but Van wasn't done with him just yet.

"Blaine said the same thing, you know. About my hair?" He pointed to his own head. "He, like, didn't say it like that. But he said that I'm a talented dude and that with a little… polishing, I think it was, that I'd be, like, set." Van raised an eyebrow. "So I guess you guys, like, agree on that."

"No," Jesse shook his head. "Because I really do like it." His smile reached his eyes this time, then he turned and left, already feeling the urge to call up one of the Asian kids to go to his classes for him, though it was only the second day of school.

Blaine was quiet when Jesse passed him in the hallways. They even ended up sitting at the same table in the cafeteria, though Jesse was all the way on one end while Blaine was at the other. They never made eye contact and they didn't speak, but it didn't feel as if either had made the other upset. They were just two kids at school who knew of the other's existence but chose not to acknowledge it. The same held true for rehearsal in the afternoon. They stood at opposite ends of the stage and ignored each other, and Jesse was all too happy to play along.

And suddenly it was like there was no Blaine. The first few weeks of rehearsals were always boring, since everyone needed to get used to working with each other all over again. Starting a new routine was always the hardest part, and starting the beginning of the year was even harder. People rotated in and out of set places, switched dance partners, went from upstage to downstage, trying to figure out where they worked best. Oftentimes it ended up with their lead dancers in front and the featured singers on the ends, backup vocals in the back, appropriately. Jesse, of course, was always the center of attention.

Things were normal. Everything had fallen back into place and Ms. Corcoran was getting to know everyone well enough to start giving them individual notes rather than addressing problems as if it was the entire group's fault. That was always Jesse's favorite part, when the criticisms aimed at others stopped getting aimed at the entire group. He'd always found it extremely dull to have to listen to something he hadn't done.

Two weeks passed, and Jesse assumed that everything was back to the way they were supposed to be. And then in rehearsal, Blaine raised his hand.

Everyone stared. It wasn't customary for people to raise their hands. If you had a problem or needed to use the bathroom, you sucked it up and dealt with it until the deemed break period or when Ms. Corcoran asked for input. You never shouted anything out and you never interrupted the rehearsal, even if you did it politely by raising your hand.

Ms. Corcoran left him go, arm up, as she explained what she hoped to accomplish with their newest number. Blaine seemed not to get the hint; his arm was actually waving back and forth after about three minutes, clearly getting on her nerves.

"Mister Anderson, do you have something you'd like to say?" she finally asked, tapping the toe of her shoe loudly, making an obnoxious clacking noise.

"Yes," Blaine sounded polite, despite the fact that he'd all but flapped his hands at her. Jesse glared down the line at him, immediately on the defensive. "I was only wondering why we will be trying to accomplish sending a message about equality when our club clearly has a hierarchy."

"We perform each song in the way that showcases our strengths the best," Ms. Corcoran clucked her tongue. "That's how we do things in Vocal Adrenaline."

"Then what's the point of having all of us hang out over the summer?" Blaine challenged. "I mean, why tell us to be friends and like each other only to tell us who's better than everyone else once school starts?"

"Wow," Jesse interrupted, stepping out from his place in line and turning to look directly at Blaine. "You know, you could at least say what you mean instead of turning this into something it's not."

"I'm saying exactly what I mean, Jesse," Blaine assured him, looking straight back, his face unreadable.

"No, you're really not," Jesse shook his head, starting to walk towards Blaine. "Just admit it, Anderson. You want my spot and you think it's bullshit that everyone else isn't out for my blood too." He crossed his arms, tipping his chin upwards slightly. "Well, let me give you an in as to how we work here. Once rehearsal begins, I cease to be Jesse. Instead, I'm Jesse St. James, the male lead of Vocal Adrenaline who will do whatever it takes to be a good leader. And a good leader does what's best for his team. I think you'll find that both Jesses actually do count these people as friends."

"Am I your friend?" Blaine shifted his stance slightly.

"Jesse St. James thinks you are a valuable piece to the puzzle that is Vocal Adrenaline," he answered honestly. "But he'd be lying if he said that Jesse is your friend." He came to a halt in front of Blaine, staring the other down, grateful for the five inches he had on the other. "Next time you want to make a point, do it outside of rehearsal. We need every second of this time to prepare." He turned to face the rest of the group, voice raising, "So I hope none of you attempt to try this either."

"Thank you, boys," Ms. Corcoran interrupted loudly. "Yes, as Jesse was saying, we have certain ways of doing things here. One of those things is building camaraderie between teammates, and another is making sure each and every one of you knows where you belong at any given time. And right now each and every one of you need to hit the toilets. Ten minute bathroom break, and I want every one of you back here on the dot." She tapped her watch, and everyone split.

Things fell into a routine after that. Blaine would keep his mouth shut during rehearsals, but the second they ended, he would launch himself off the stage and bombard Ms. Corcoran with new ideas. He wanted to showcase more voices. He wanted to vary solos. He wanted to switch up the dancers. In short, he wanted equal treatment. He wanted the weak links to have their time in the spotlight, for the reserves to actually perform come competition time even though it would mean overcrowding the stage.

So Jesse had taken to bombarding Ms. Corcoran with ideas as well. He would counter everything Blaine said so that she didn't even have to speak, until she finally became fed up with the pair of them and told them goodbye. Then they would retreat backstage to change and wash up, pointedly ignoring each other unless one made the other particularly angry, in which case they would continue to argue over what was best for Vocal Adrenaline.

Jesse wasn't entirely sure why he bothered. Blaine was fighting a losing battle; Ms. Corcoran was not going to change the way they did things and probably never would. Blaine was going to have to get used to the way things were, and every second that Jesse argued counted as another second that he indulged the other's obvious need for attention. But he couldn't keep his mouth shut, not when every suggestion Blaine made basically said that Jesse needed less time in the spotlight. That was never okay.

He assumed that Blaine would call it quits after a few weeks, but then it was suddenly a month later and rather than waiting until after rehearsals, Blaine was making comments during rehearsals. He offered suggestions where they weren't welcome and pointedly sang louder than was necessary on backup. Jesse spent most of their rehearsal time glaring at him, and Blaine glared right back, and it was seriously messing with both of their concentration.

So much that neither of them noticed the smirks on everyone's faces one Thursday. To them, it was business as usual, and they promptly spent the next three hours glaring and making snide comments under their breath and out loud, seemingly unable to stop themselves. But when the rehearsal ended, they didn't file back to the dressing rooms with everyone else.

"Jesse St. James and Blaine Anderson, I am ashamed of you both," Ms. Corcoran said loudly, as the others didn't walk but ran back to the dressing rooms. "You boys have been nothing but unprofessional with each other since this year began. And I will not stand for it." Both stared at her, then jumped in unison at the sound of doors slamming backstage. "Now I've never been one for forcing my students to get along, but this is a special situation. You two will be locked in this auditorium until you can come to an understanding." Both boys opened their mouths to protest, but she silenced them with a wave of her hand and a quick, "And whoever objects will get kicked out of the club, no questions asked."

They stopped staring at her and turned to look at each other, matching expressions of disgust bared for the other to see.

"The others have taken care of the doors backstage," Ms. Corcoran informed them, picking up her bag and heading towards the back of the auditorium. "And I'll be locking that one on my way out. You have three hours. If you haven't settled things by then, I'm leaving you here overnight."

Those were her parting words, closing the auditorium door with a snap behind her, the sound of it locking seeming to reverberate around the room, even though Jesse knew that was impossible. But it was the sound that was condemning him to spending one-on-one time with Blaine Anderson, the boy who had quickly become the bane of his existence, so excuse him for not jumping in excitement.

"Fuck," he muttered.

"I do believe this would be the first time we agreed on something," Blaine said quietly. "Because that sums up my thoughts on the matter quite nicely."