The first time it happened, Mike was too stunned to react for about five minutes. All he could think was, Cold, cold, oh my God, cold, and Holy sweet Jesus that stings. Ow, ow, ow. Cold. It was horrible. He might have blacked out for a moment.
During this time, Tina and Mercedes had bundled him into the girls’ bathroom (which would have been disturbing, except none of the other girls even glanced his way), had washed the ice off their own faces, and were halfway through drying him off as well. It pained him to see Tina so experienced at this, though he was grateful all the same.
“Hey, look at it this way,” she said, giving him a tiny, wry smile. “Now you really are one of us.”
He laughed, and tried to ignore the tight, heavy ache of humiliation in his stomach. Harder to forget, though he really tried, was the predatory gleam in Karofsky’s eyes as he’d thrown the slushy.
“Hey, I heard you were the bendy one. Bet you’re always bending over for everyone else in Queer Club, huh fag?”
The guys in the locker room laughed. Mike really had no way to respond to that, so he went with the easiest option – ignoring them all. Being on the Glee club, he had been faced with comments like this before (though not as frequently as Finn or Puck, or Kurt when he’d still been here), and his non-reaction usually bored them pretty quickly.
His locker door slammed shut, and he jumped in shock. Karofsky was right there, his hand on the locker and his face disturbingly close. “Hey, did you hear me? I’m talking to you, fag.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Mike snapped, shoving Karofsky out of his personal space. It didn’t make him go very far, but his face twisted into some creepy hybrid of angry and amused.
“You’re my problem, Sulu. You know Sulu was a cocksucker, right?”
“You know Sulu was Japanese, right?”
“That’s my point, homo. Must be an Asian thing, huh guys?”
“ . . . You’re such a moron, Karofsky.”
The amusement dropped away, and suddenly his face was right up in Mike’s space again. “Don’t push me, Chang.”
Mike wished he could say that he actually did push back instead of making a hasty exit. He also wished that he could stop Karofsky’s hateful, meaningless words from running through his head on a constant loop for days to come.
It always came out of nowhere, usually when he was walking by himself down the corridor. One second he’d be thinking about his next ‘normal night out’ with Tina (who had recently begun to nag him about eating more, and geez, wasn’t he skinny enough to start with?), or the choreography for this week’s assignment, and the next minute a rough, meaty hand had grabbed his arm and thrown him into the nearest locker. He collided with an echoing crash that made his ears ring, and pain exploded along his shoulder, or arm, or back – whichever part of him took the brunt of the fall.
And Karofsky would just keep walking, not even bothering to look back and see the damage. That was the worst part.
He tried to adapt, by subtly checking each corridor as he rounded the corner, but Karofsky usually came up from behind anyway. He made an effort to walk with other Glee clubbers rather than by himself, but it wasn’t always possible, and he didn’t want to make it seem like he was clinging to Finn or Sam like a preteen girl. Anyway, it wasn’t too bad. He got worse in football, honestly, or in dance practice with Brittany, or when he and the guys roughhoused around in the Hummel-Hudson basement while the girls and Kurt made disparaging comments in the background.
It really wasn’t a big deal. No one needed to know.
(Besides, telling people just didn’t work. Kurt and his new Dalton blazer proved that.)
See, the thing was, Mike knew he was an easy target. He was quiet, socially awkward, and hated confrontation. Before Glee, he’d done everything possible to stay under the radar; hell, even after joining, it has been months before he gradually grew confident enough to express himself or make connections with people.
When Kurt had been bullied, he’d tried to use that newfound confidence (and his friends’ support) to confront Karofsky. That had turned out terribly, and looking back, he wondered if that had been the point where Karofsky had decided to focus all his attention on Mike. Mike was not physically strong. He was not intimidating in the least, and couldn’t get back up once you pushed him down. He couldn’t protect anyone, least of all himself, and Karofsky had clearly taken advantage of that.
He deserved all this really, for being so weak. The sugary stains on his clothes, the dirty names and labels, the bruises all along his back and shoulders and arms – it reminded him of who he really was.
He even deserved the slap mark on his face, a reminder of his breakup with Tina. He should have made it clear from the start that she was too good for him.
He was walking to Glee one afternoon, dragging his feet through the corridor. Glee had once been his favourite time of the day, but recently it just wore him out. Dancing made him dizzy and sore, and it was hard being in the same room as Tina. No one talked to him much these days. Even the guys stopped trying, once it became clear that he wasn’t making an effort to speak anyway.
A locker slammed somewhere, and he flinched. He was pathetic, really. So weak and paranoid and . . .
“Hey fag, you got a minute?”
There was that hand on his arm again. He shrank back. “No. Leave me alone.”
The grip tightened, and he braced himself for the inevitable crash. But rather than shoving him away, Karofsky began dragging him through the corridor and into the locker room, ignoring the pitiful attempts to pull away. God, Mike was tired. He barely even had the strength to struggle.
“What do you want?” he said, yanking his arm away once they were inside.
Karofsky didn’t say anything, but advanced upon him slowly until he had no choice but to backtrack. His back hit the lockers, and several old bruises ached in protest. “Wh-what are you doing?”
Still no words. The bigger guy just looked at him, bracing both his arms on either side of Mike’s head as though trying to cage him in. He felt his heart begin to race as Karofsky inched closer, until their hips were pressed together, and . . .
Suddenly, Mike understood. He understood why a guy as brave and as confident as Kurt would suddenly run away, after years of withstanding the same abuse constantly. Most of all, he suddenly understood that whatever was about to happen right now, he didn’t deserve it.
“Get off,” he ordered quietly.
Karofsky ignored him. One hand drifted towards his hair, and he began to panic.
“Karofsky – Dave – stop it! Get off me!”
“Make me,” he whispered, his breath ghosting over Mike’s cheek. His hand moved to Mike’s chest, keeping him pinned there at an awkward position. He had no leverage and couldn’t land a solid kick anywhere, and oh Jesus, this was not happening.
There was a sudden flash of red in his peripheral, and then a woman was speaking. “David Karofsky. Get the fuck away from him right now, before I’m forced to do something that will cost me my career.”
Mike had never been so glad, or so humiliated, to see Coach Sylvester in his entire life.
Everyone was yelling. Couch Sylvester was yelling at Mr Schuester – something about him being a blind hypocrite – Mr Schuester was yelling right back, and Figgins was yelling at both of them to quiet down. Karofsky and Mike kept their eyes on their laps and didn’t say anything.
The door suddenly slammed open, shocking everyone into silence. In the doorway, with Tina at the lead, was New Directions, and they were all staring at Mike and with varying expressions of horror.
“Guys,” Mr Schuester said wearily. “Please go back to the choir room, you can’t all be here right now.”
“Is is true?” Finn asked shortly, ignoring him and looking directly at Mike.
Mike swallowed and looked down.
Tina suddenly shrieked in rage and threw herself at Karofsky, punching and clawing at him with those pointy acrylic nails of hers. Pandemonium broke out, as half the Glee club tried to join her, and the other half (plus Schue, though Sylvester was curiously absent from the fray) struggled to pull them off.
When Sam finally managed to pry Tina away, she glanced over at Mike, and burst into tears. “Why didn’t you say anything?!”
They all looked at him, even the teachers and Karofsky, who had a bloodied lip. Mike felt his own eyes sting and he sunk lower into the hard plastic chair. “M’sorry,” he whispered.
Why didn’t you notice? was what he didn’t say.
They all wanted him to talk. Mr Schuester, Miss Pillsbury, Tina, Finn, Mercedes, Quinn . . . everyone tried, at least once. And a part of him wanted to. But the bigger part, which had dominated his personality for most of his life and was now stronger than ever, couldn’t find the words (or the courage to speak them).
Then Finn had approached him, the day after Karofsky had finally been expelled, and said in his frustrated-gentle-earnest way, “Here’s Kurt’s number. I haven’t told him about this yet because he’s had exams and would just get stressed and maybe lose his scholarship . . . but he should know, and I think you should have someone you can trust.” He hesitated a moment. “I’m really sorry you can’t trust us.”
“Hello, this is Kurt Hummel.”
“Um . . . hey. It’s Mike Chang.”
“Oh, Mike! It’s good to hear from you.”
“Is this, um, a bad time?”
“Nope, it’s perfect. I’m in the middle of a harrowing essay on socio-political science. What can I do for you?”
“Well . . . um . . .”
“Is everything okay, Mike?”
“ . . . Not really.”
“Talk to me.”