Blaine meets Kurt for the first time in the dim back room of Artie's office. It's been a mess every time Blaine's been there, filled with dirty socks and half-read scripts, leftover takeout containers and spilled bottles of booze. This time is no different. The wooden panels make it feel ancient, like something out of the mid-twentieth century.
Amongst the old-fashioned squalor, Kurt stands out. They've dressed him in a white shirt and white pants that look more like hospital scrubs than the latest fresh-off-the-runway stuff that most movie stars like to wear. None of this takes away from how beautiful he is, long and pale with a boyish prettiness that Blaine knows will make him popular almost immediately. Behind him, the machine that powers him rumbles, a single projector lens flickering as it constructs the image that's being displayed.
Artie smiles from behind his desk. "Blaine," he says. "I'd like you to meet your new costar."
Kurt says, "Hi. My name is Kurt." His voice isn't like most of the other computerized voices Blaine's heard before, higher than that of the standard male voice, but deeper than that of the standard female.
They shake hands. Kurt's hands are solid but weak, and there's a slight buzz to the sensation where they touch. Blaine's surprised that they can make any physical contact at all. He'd heard before that they were making tactile hologram technology, but he wasn't expecting the studio to spring for it this time around, especially after they've gone through decades of CGI and rotoscoping and intangible holographic sets. Kurt can't have been cheap.
"It's nice to meet you," Blaine says.
When Blaine was eight, he wanted nothing more in his life than to be in the movies. He loved the old classic 2D superhero films, the ones about the meaning of power and responsibility. He'd watch them on every device he had, and on sunny summer afternoons, he and Sam would run around his parents' backyard with homemade capes while getting into arguments about what their super powers would be. It was easy, when they were eight, to pretend that they could save the world.
When Blaine was nineteen, he followed Cooper all the way to LA and never looked back.
Blaine's twenty-four now. He's been in this industry for five years.
If this movie doesn't collapse in on itself before it's released, Blaine will be the first actor to have a holographic, artificially intelligent co-star for a movie. He doesn't expect that to make him much more than an interesting footnote in the history books, but he supposes that will be enough.
The first movie Blaine has with Kurt is a Victorian comedy of manners, where they spar with each other with words and deal with misplaced affections. They walk around in elaborate costumes and talk with overdone, fake, English accents while Artie spends most of his times fussing over getting the right period-appropriate sets.
Blaine has never worked with an AI more complicated than Google, who has been programmed to be bland and warm and encouraging, simple enough to handle all of the world's data without comment or complaint. Kurt is far more sophisticated than that. He's built to be an actor after all. His facial animations are subtle, nuanced, and even when idling between takes, he moves and reacts just enough that he ends up on the right side of the uncanny valley.
They still go through some rough patches. There's the day when Kurt says every line ten seconds too late and the day when Artie nearly throws something at Kurt for not understanding what he means by 'more tomato, less broccoli'. But the genre gives them a little bit of leeway in the details. Kurt can be stiff and awkward and still make it work for his character.
For his part, Blaine kind of likes it. One of his first movies he did had a talking dog that was added in during post, and the best they had to work against on set was a bored AD off to the side reading off the lines in monotone and a static hologram of a dog to make the sightlines correct. After that, working with pretty much anyone who actually tries to act while on set feels like a step up.
They have one kissing scene, fully clothed and upright. They've made Kurt a few inches taller than Blaine, and that means that Blaine needs to crane his head a little bit to get their lips to line up. It only takes them three setups and four takes to get it down. Kurt's lips don't feel like real lips, and his hands don't feel like real hands, but Artie just wants something short and sweet, so it doesn't really matter. Kurt kisses like he's been kissing people all his life. Blaine tries not to think about what it took to tweak and tweak and tweak that until they got it perfect.
Blaine tries to strike up a conversation with Kurt one quiet morning as everyone is getting set up, and Kurt responds with reasonably intelligent but bland answers to Blaine's questions and a placid, pleasant expression fixed to his face. It's not the oddest conversation Blaine has had since landing in LA, but it is the most colorless.
The technical consultant from Hummel industries, a sharply-dressed blonde woman named Quinn, gives Blaine a practiced smile. "He's going to get an off-duty emotion module on his next upgrade," she says. "We wanted to get it done by the start of filming, but Artie wouldn't push back the schedule. You know how it is."
Blaine doesn't, but he nods anyway.
During the press junket for the movie, one of the interviewers asks, "What was it like, working with Kurt?"
Blaine was expecting the question. The studio already coached him on what he's supposed to say. He smiles and winks at the camera. "Practically as good as the real thing," he says.
The movie does moderately well at the box office. It's an experiment for the studio, a safe choice so that they can test the waters to see how well their risky long-term investment goes.
It does well enough that they want to try another one with Blaine as the other male lead. Apparently, the idea of pairing him and Kurt together again tested well with audiences, and the studio wants to try something a little bigger and a little riskier, to really put the idea of Kurt as a potential star out there.
"Plus," Santana, the director of their next film, says, "you have more chemistry with the robot over there than you ever did with the last guy they stuck you with." The last guy Blaine worked with was this creep named Sebastian. Kurt may be an emotionless void when he isn't in front of a camera, but at least he isn't spending every moment of every day trying to get into Blaine's pants.
Blaine blinks at her a few times. "I already said I'd do it," he says. "And I don't think Kurt counts as a robot."
"Good to hear that," Santana says. "According to management, you two are due to be the next Fred and Ginger, if Fred was a hobbit and Ginger lived in a box most of the time."
"Uh, thanks," Blaine says. He thinks that was supposed to be a compliment.
"It's like every director's dream come true," Santana says with a laugh. "An actor who will do exactly what you want without complaints. I can't believe no one thought of it sooner."
When Blaine was nineteen and fresh off the plane, Cooper got Blaine an interview with a studio looking to hire some new faces into their stable of actors.
It was, for a lack of a better word, strange.
The guy behind the desk only took one squinted look at Blaine and said, "Sure, he'll do." The office was a cliché. Huge windows, sleek furniture. A monitor behind his desk played a series of distracting trailers on loop.
Blaine said, "Uh, do I have to answer questions or something?" He'd spent most of his time on the flight from Ohio practicing his answers for 'Why do you want to be in the movies?' and 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' It was a bit of a letdown to not get a chance to use them.
"Your brother said you're okay with kissing dudes. Is that true?" The guy was punching numbers into his tablet and no longer paying much attention to Blaine.
Blaine could feel his brow furrowing. "Well, I'm gay, so..." Cooper had lots of advice about surviving Hollywood. Blaine had assumed most of it was made up or exaggerated, considering what he knew of Cooper, but he was beginning to suspect that it was all true.
The guy gestured to his assistant, who was lingering by the door. "Get him to hair and makeup to see how he looks in front of a camera. Get him a guy to make out with, too. Make sure he's not lying about that."
Hair was a girl named Kitty who had a scary smile and a threatening way of swinging around a hair brush. Makeup was a sweet, somewhat ditzy girl named Brittany who liked to talk about her cat.
"We're going to need to do something about the eyebrows," Kitty said.
Brittany frowned. "But they're so fuzzy."
Kitty rolled her eyes at her. "They want him for the clean-cut look. We're going to have to do something about them so that they don't eat his face when he's on camera." She made an annoyed sound and glared at Blaine. "You're going to have to sit still or I might 'accidentally' shave your whole face off."
Blaine said, "I kind of like my eyebrows the way they are." It was kind of stupid, but it felt like a big thing, reshaping his eyebrows, like it could make him a whole different person just because he wouldn't quite recognize himself in the mirror anymore.
"Actors," Kitty muttered as she reached for the nearest razor. "Like anyone gives a shit about about what you want."
Brittany nodded at that, a little sadly. "I don't like real people all that much, either. Imaginary people are so much easier."
On the first day of their second movie, Kurt smiles at Blaine and starts up a conversation about the weather. His hair is different. They've colored it lighter than it was before. They've also relaxed the set of his shoulders. Blaine didn't even notice how tensed they were the last time they worked together.
"This upgrade really is something," Quinn says. "They even made sure he could handle smalltalk. Those eggheads can pull it out when they need to."
The movie they're doing is a star-crossed romance that takes place in a fantasy medieval Europe between dueling kingdoms. They have more screentime together for this one, which means more time together on set, working directly with one another. The Victorian romance was more about them pining for each other from afar, and so mostly Blaine would sit on the other side of the room as the techies fretted over Kurt and how he was behaving.
"I'm pleased to be working with you again, Blaine," Kurt says. His grin is a touch too wide. It makes his eyes look squinty. Maybe the programmers overdid it with the emotions just a little bit. Still, it's cute, and Blaine has always been a sucker for cute.
"Me, too," Blaine says.
The shoot is a grueling slog, all rain and mud and freezing stone castles. It's far worse for the crew than it is for Blaine, but that doesn't mean he doesn't feel it when a bad draft comes howling down the narrow staircases.
Kurt, for his part, doesn't let any of it show. Dirt and debris don't collect on his force fields, and the current temperature is probably not much more than a number to him inside his systems. For some reason, Blaine finds that a source of comfort rather than envy. He likes the idea that someone is going to make it through filming without being miserable, even if he does hear Quinn muttering under her breath about how much it threatens the electronics.
For the most part, they get to stay inside when it rains, but every once in a while, they have to do a scene outside. Blaine hates those days. The humidity is hard on his hair, and inevitably their feet get wet from all that standing and walking through rain-soaked, muddy grass.
Kurt seems intrigued by it. "I've never really been out in the rain before," Kurt says. He holds out a hand, but his ever-shifting force field means that the rainwater passes through him.
"It's really not what it's made out to be," Blaine says. He remembers how pleased he was to learn that LA weather wasn't much like the Ohio weather he grew up with.
Kurt's animation flickers and shifts to one with his hair and clothes getting damp, his shoes caked with fake mud. He smiles. There's an expression on his face, almost childlike in its wonder. Blaine feels an echo of it in his chest. He and Sam would never let a little rain prevent them from playing their football games outside, and the thick coat of mud that would collect on their clothes and skin was almost a badge of pride rather than a source of annoyance. "I think I like it," Kurt says.
"Sure," Blaine says, and he tilts his head up to feel the rain on his face.
They talk more after that. Kurt gets into it, chatting about the different types of weather Blaine's experienced, what other sorts of movies Blaine has worked on, what real high school back in Ohio was like compared to the weirdly sterile things that they show in movies and on television.
At first, Kurt starts off with polite, careful responses mixed in with a little bit of curiosity, but as the days wear on and Santana gets increasingly frustrated with how long things are taking, he starts taking on a little bit more color. The first time Kurt makes a catty, sarcastic comment about Santana's current outfit (an ugly maroon sweater and a pair of last year's pants that do not flatter her legs), it startles a genuine laugh out of Blaine. Kurt smirks at that, like he's pleased with himself.
Once they start talking, they can't seem to stop. Kurt absorbs information so quickly and knows so much about everything that it's hard not to carry on an interesting conversation with him, and once he starts showing flashes of humor and wit, it just makes it all easier. Blaine's always bonded pretty well with his fellow actors, and he supposes that didn't have to change just because his fellow actor wasn't technically human.
On a particularly long morning (because Santana keeps chewing out the crew), Quinn even pulls Blaine aside. "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
"Okay," Blaine says. He's not sure what she's talking about, but 'don't change anything' is a pretty easy directive to follow.
Quinn rambles on something about adaptive learning and evolutionary emotional development and caps it off with a "You've been good for him. Engineering has been jerking off to these results for weeks."
"I'm assuming that's good," Blaine says.
Quinn's smile is razor sharp. "I'm going to be paying for my kids' college tuitions off the bonuses from this shit."
Now that they're spending more days working together than not, Blaine gets to watch as they do maintenance work on Kurt.
The main technician is a big, friendly guy named Finn, and he's responsible for opening Kurt up on the days when they do hardware upgrades. Every time they power down his machine, the image of Kurt will flicker for a moment before it vanishes. Sometimes it happens mid-sentence, in the middle of a walk animation, or when he's just shifting from foot to foot.
Finn will reach inside Kurt and pull out parts of him -- wires of all different colors, boards with their lights still blinking, metallic disks -- before putting new parts back in.
There are times Kurt crashes or hits some bug, which can happen after a new software update, and it's always unsettling when he goes drastically off-script and starts speaking in tongues or when he freezes in place, not blinking or breathing or any of the other subtle movements he makes that make him seem human around other people.
On days like that, Quinn will hiss at people at the Palo Alto HQ over the phone until they push out a fix for whatever it was that broke, and then they'll reboot Kurt, turn him off and back on. His holograms will flicker back to life, and he'll be Kurt again, speaking English and blinking, like nothing ever happened in the first place.
This movie does better than the last one. Critics praise Hummel Industries for a much improved performance from Kurt, one going as far as to say, "It's clear that he's still in the beta stages, but he has a surprisingly winning charisma and his rapport with Anderson has a natural, unforced quality that we look forward to seeing more of in the future."
Even Santana seems to be pleased with the finished product. "Congratulations, Blanderson. It's not a flaming pile of shit."
The numbers look good, enough to be something of a sleeper hit. The studio is pleased, pleased enough to make Kurt Blaine's regular co-star. They'd been hinting at it before, but now they're making it official. He and Kurt are going to be working together for a long time.
Next up is another historical film, this time about the Holocaust. Blaine plays a German homosexual imprisoned by the Nazis, and Kurt plays his sickly lover who gets sent to the gas chambers halfway through the film. Blaine has to do a lot of crying, and Kurt has to do a lot of lying in bed while looking sick and sad.
Movie #4 is a modern day comedy/bildungsroman. Blaine plays a struggling grad student, studying comparative literature and being a total mess at life and dating. Kurt plays his best friend/love interest who sits to the side and pines away and helps him pull his crap together. They get together in the end, of course, a suitable happy ending for most people, though Blaine does get a few death threats for his treatment of Taylor (Kurt's character in the movie). Artie finds it amusing. "Just means that we got them to feel something," he says. He gives Blaine a hearty slap on the back just for good measure.
Quinn gets a promotion after that one, and the new technical consultant is a tall, quiet, skinny guy by the name of Mike, who chats with Finn about sports and dances like a dream during cast parties. He and Blaine get along great, and after Quinn, it's kind of nice to have someone around who isn't quite as terrifying when Kurt's programming goes off-script.
As Kurt and Blaine get more popular as an on-screen couple, the studio starts putting more emphasis on how human Blaine is. They have him grow out his chest hair (though they still have it regularly trimmed), and they put less makeup on his face, and ask him to stop going to the gym quite as much. Sometimes they stick unnecessary fight scenes into their movies and bang him up, cover him in fake cuts and bruises, so that when they have to film love scenes, the discoloration stands out against Kurt's smooth, flawless skin.
It's not that Blaine is unhappy when he's not working. Blaine talks to his parents twice a week. He likes to walk around the neighborhood on weekends, enjoying the sunshine and the perpetually warm and dry LA weather. He's becoming great at baking cookies. He knows exactly when to take them out of the oven to ensure that they're the perfect balance of chewy and crunchy. There's plenty of high speed internet to tide him over if he gets bored.
But it's just-- quiet. He hasn't spoken to Sam that much since they drifted apart a few years ago, and Tina went quiet once she got busy at school. Blaine gets it. Towards the end, they didn't have anything new or interesting to say to one another.
At least on set, there's a constant hum of activity, tons of people going everywhere all at once. Most of Blaine's friendships on set are cursory. People are expected to coddle him and treat him with kid gloves, to not upset or get too cozy with the 'talent'. That sort of behavior tends to bleed into the other actors. The relationships hold fast for short periods of time, there and gone before it's over, ships passing each other in the night.
Blaine had been looking forward to getting a consistent screen partner, but Kurt isn't exactly what he expected to come out of that change in his life. Not that it's a bad thing. Kurt's gorgeous and thoughtful and sharp, and he talks to Blaine like they're real friends, like he actually care about what Blaine has to say.
"What does it feel like when I touch you?" Kurt asks. He tilts his head to the side and presses a hand against Blaine's bare arm. Since the first time they shook hands, Kurt's gotten improved force field technology, to the point where he can actually take Blaine's weight, and it makes him feel less like a ghost that's passing through Blaine's life, more like something solid and real.
"I don't know," Blaine says. "What does it feel like when I touch you?" They have a kissing scene today, so they're in closer proximity than normal, sitting side-by-side on a wooden bench as the rest of the crew rushes by.
Kurt's brow furrows. "I don't think I know how to explain it in human words," he says. "It's like a switch flipping on." He gestures to where his hand is still pressed against Blaine's arm. "Right here."
Blaine thinks about what he learned about binary code in the high school computer classes he daydreamed his way through, ones and zeroes flowing inside circuits, and he thinks about electrical impulses firing through neurons, and he thinks about the tingle of Kurt's force fields as they press against his skin. "It's not so different for us," he says.
On the back of Kurt's popularity, more holographic AI stars start popping up. The breakout success of the new crop is a woman named Rachel. Blaine likes her movies, but to him, she always feels like a sped up version of a real person. She belongs to a rival studio and is made by a rival technology company, so it's unlikely that either Kurt or Blaine will ever work with her, though the word on the grapevine (i.e. Santana) says that there's a chance that the two studios might put aside their differences to have Rachel and Kurt in a movie together, just for the experimental value of it.
"Would you want to do it?" Blaine asks Kurt.
They're huddled underneath an umbrella as it rains on location today. Kurt is still charmed by the rain, but they're more interested in keeping his machine out of trouble after that one shoot where they lost four of them in a row due to water damage. Kurt shrugs. "I don't see why not. I've watched her films, and she's clearly talented." He turns to look Blaine in the eye. "It would be different than working with you, of course. But-- it would be a new experience. It could be interesting, to meet someone else like me."
There's a wistful tone to his voice, and it surprises Blaine because he'd never thought of Kurt as lonely before. "Yeah," Blaine says. He nudges Kurt's shoulder with his own. "Well, here's to hoping."
"To hoping," Kurt says, and his smile is small and sweet and shy.
Blaine isn't a particularly big fan of after-parties, but he'll still go to them when the studio insists that he needs to. It's a lot of standing around and smiling and playing nice while accepting flattery or criticism. The alcohol and dim lighting don't do much to alleviate how exhausting they can be. Cooper loves them, of course, and Blaine's never sure if he dislikes them more because they're Cooper's thing or because they're not really his own.
He's moping into his glass and trying to put on his best show face when he catches sight of a familiar head of hair in the crowd.
"Oh, hey," Blaine says, catching up to Kurt and tapping him on the shoulder. "I didn't know they were trotting you out for these things, too."
Kurt turns around to face him, and there's something off here. His holograms are much worse than they usually are, lower resolution, not quite as vivid, like they put him in cheaper hardware for an event where he could get tripped over or kicked by a stray drunk person or get booze spilled all over him. But then again, they've upgraded Kurt's standard hardware to the newest mobile levitating hologram projection and force field technology so that Kurt's main computer can live in a sealed room while Kurt can move around freely.
Kurt says, "Oh, I don't think we've met. My name is Taylor."
"Oh," Blaine says. "I'm Blaine."
Now that Blaine has a better look at him, he can see that they've styled him like Taylor in the movie they did together a few years back, and he can recognize the slouch of his shoulders and the way he ducks his head like he's trying not to be seen. Kurt tends to overhaul his body language for every new movie, though he's settled into a standard set of 'off-duty' behaviors. This isn't Kurt. "It's cool meeting you," not-Kurt (Taylor?) says, "but I think I see my date over there. Excuse me."
Blaine turns to see a middle-aged producer waving at the two of them. Blaine recognizes him from the mildly useful list that Cooper gave him of the weirdos and creeps to avoid in this town. Taylor smiles at him and starts walking away.
"Good replica, huh?" Artie says as he hovers over to Blaine's side. "They've been flying off the shelves. It's a whole new revenue stream: take-home versions of your favorite characters. If Hummel wasn't so paranoid about trade-secret proprietary technology, I'm sure they'd be selling complete copies of Kurt to anyone who would be willing to pay up."
"Yeah," Blaine says. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that Kurt isn't really a singular entity, that he can be copied and re-copied as many times as they want. They even do remote backups of him every night, which has actually saved their ass on more than one occasion when they've run into software or hardware issues that have necessitated rolling back to an older version of his software.
Right now, there's only one of him wandering around, but that doesn't have to be true forever. Not when you can make money off of it in this town.
Blaine is twenty-eight. He's been working with Kurt for four years now.
Movie #8 is a movie that's more about testing Kurt out as an action star who can do risky stunts without risking actual life or limb. Blaine plays his hacker sidekick who communicates with him mostly over the phone. It's their first movie where they're not playing love interests, and the first of their movies to be slated for a mainstream release.
Movie #9 is a musical about the early millennium struggle for marriage equality. There's a lot of courtroom scenes and sappy proposals and dancing on tables during the musical numbers. Kurt likes reciting old magazine articles from the era for the amusement of the cast and crew. On good days, Blaine goes home humming Katy Perry. On bad days, he wants to go back in time and punch Macklemore in the face.
The movie that is supposed to be Kurt's first chance to act with Rachel falls through for the seventh time after negotiations between the two studios come to a standstill once again, even though both Hummel Industries and Berry Technologies are pushing for the chance to see their creations face off against one another. Blaine can tell that Kurt's disappointed, even though he doesn't say anything about it to Blaine.
Kurt gets better as an actor, way better than Blaine has ever been. It shouldn't have been a surprise, not really, not with how quickly he's learned everything else up until now. Mike says that they've made some new breakthroughs in the AI learning and growth fields that have really sped things up, but Blaine thinks that maybe it's just the day-in, day-out experience of becoming different people, of trying on new personalities and figuring out which ones fit. He can see shades of all of Kurt's past parts in his current ones, building on the old to create something new. But then again, Blaine's not an engineer. Maybe he's just making things up that aren't there.
For his work as an angry hacktivist in a political thriller, Kurt earns himself an Oscar nomination for Best Digital Performance. Up until now, it's always been awarded to mo-capped human actors or one of the animation houses that employ teams of animators to make everything by hand. Kurt is the first AI to earn a nomination. Blaine knows he won't be the last.
It's their twelfth movie together. They've worked together long enough to be comfortable in each other's space. But Blaine still isn't expecting it when Kurt follows him back to his trailer after a long shoot.
Kurt's been restless and antsy, lately, and Blaine doesn't know why. Usually, there's a clear delineation between Kurt on-camera and Kurt off-camera, but now there's enough bleed-through that Kurt has emotional outbursts at odd moments. Once, he stomped off set after getting into an argument with Santana about something, and that afternoon, he had twenty frantic people trying to track him down and make sure he didn't damage his hardware. This particular movie is about a troubled, temperamental artist and his long-suffering husband who sticks by him through thick and thin. Kurt's never been much of a method actor, but it seems like there really is a first time for everything.
Kurt's recent behavior has Santana impatient and Mike trying to calm her down with detailed and confusing technical explanations about how this is normal for this stage of AI development. Blaine has no idea if that's true or not or just bullshit coming down the line, but it does mean that Kurt's acting has taken on a new edge that it hasn't before, a rawness that has never came through the polished, clean performances he would give in earlier films.
And now Kurt wants to hang out in Blaine's trailer. It's fine. It's just a little weird.
"I've never been here before," Kurt says, looking around. He reaches out to pick up the small digital display of Blaine's family on his desk. He smiles. "They look like you."
"There's a reason for that," Blaine says. He runs a hand through his hair and thinks about how much he'd like to take a shower, which he can't really do with Kurt here.
Kurt raises an eyebrow. "Yeah, I know." He sighs. "I saw Pinocchio recently. Well, more like, uploaded Pinocchio and analyzed it." He frowns, shaking his head. There's a restless shuffle to his feet that's new. Blaine's never seen it before. Maybe he's trying it out for the scene they have together tomorrow, a frantic emotional meltdown with a lot of shouting.
Blaine says, "Oh." He doesn't know what he should do.
"It's not that I want to be a real boy," Kurt says, "but sometimes I--" He takes a step closer to Blaine.
It reminds Blaine of being on set, all the cameras pointed at them while they pretend to be in love with one another. It has that same tension, that same sort of inevitability of two people, two bodies colliding, but Blaine isn't anyone but himself, and he has no idea who Kurt is right now.
"I've never really kissed anyone before," Kurt says. He leans down to press his lips to Blaine's, and it's almost like every other scene where they've had to kiss each other. It starts off simple and sweet, but then Kurt presses closer, gets sloppy, and Blaine lets his tongue slide between Kurt's lips. Kissing Kurt has never been like kissing another human being, no matter what it may look like on camera. There's always been the staticy buzz of his force field, but now Blaine knows that his mouth is cool and dry and tasteless, that his lips will give way to Blaine's teeth. For all his eagerness and all their experience faking this for other people, Kurt doesn't seem to know what to do with his tongue. Blaine can feel the subtle rise and fall of Kurt's chest, but Kurt has no real breath, no need to pull or push air through empty virtual lungs.
One of Kurt's hands cups Blaine's face. Blaine feels the strange-familiar tingle of it, and he thinks about the last time Kurt did that during a kissing scene, and he thinks, no, stop.
Kurt makes a noise when Blaine pulls back. "Blaine," he says. His eyes are wide and round. Blaine feels like an asshole for even letting it get this far.
Blaine shakes his head. They might act like friends, but they're not. At best, they're co-workers. At worst, Kurt isn't even a person, just a collection of machinery and confused code. This is a terrible thing to do to him. "I'm sorry," Blaine says, and he has his years of acting to thank for how even and collected his voice sounds right now, "but I think you should leave now."
When he was fourteen, Blaine used to dream of getting married, settling down, having kids. The person who he was back then feels alien to him, but he can remember the sunny optimism, the way he used to look forward to his future. And now this is what he's been reduced to, making out with his digital co-star in his trailer. It sounds like the terrible punchline of a cruel joke.
Kurt purses his lips. His hair is unruffled. His lips are pink and unswollen. No one would look at him and guess at what they've been doing. "Okay," he says. His eyes narrow. "Fine."
When he closes the door behind him, Blaine buries his face in his hands and tries to remember how to breathe.
The next day, there's another software update, and Kurt's more like himself again when he's off camera. Santana looks less likely to put Mike's head through the nearest piece of drywall, and filming settles back into its normal schedule.
Kurt approaches Blaine during lunch. He doesn't need to eat, but now that he can roam the entire set untethered from his central machine, he enjoys sitting and chatting with the rest of the cast and crew. "I'd like to apologize," he says. "I crossed some lines I shouldn't have, and I'd like to make sure that things are still okay between us."
"It's fine," Blaine says. "No harm done."
Kurt smiles. Over the years, his smiles have taken on textures, layers with each additional role. Blaine can't say he knows what this one means. "Thanks," Kurt says. He puts a hand on Blaine's shoulder and gives it a squeeze. It doesn't feel like much of anything.
Blaine thinks he likes it better that way.
Their fourteenth movie together is also their last. Blaine's about to hit thirty, and it's definitely starting to show. Technology these days is good enough that the studio could keep him looking twenty-five for a long time, but there's very little need for that when there's dozens of newer, fresher faces waiting to take his place. The roles they've been putting him in -- young, naive twenty-somethings -- don't quite fit the way they used to, and now they want to try him in more adult roles. Blaine supposes he's lucky. Most women age out of that category by the time they're twenty-five.
The studio is taking a gamble that they can keep Kurt in rotation for longer, that his eternal, unchanging youth is part of his appeal. There's no need to age him up, to reshape his facial features into what they should be after six years of living and growing.
This time around, their movie is about Blaine as an ad executive who prioritizes his career over family and personal relationships until Kurt, a free-spirited post-graduate type, comes crashing into his life and shows him what he's been missing. It's supposed to be a heartwarming comedy, but a restrained, almost melancholy mood hangs over the shoot. Ever since movie #7, most of the cast and crew take their emotional cues from Kurt. Blaine doesn't know how that even happened, but somehow it stuck. Kurt, for his part, keeps shooting Blaine these looks when they're off-camera, thoughtful and questioning, and when the talk, he's a little bit quieter, less willing to go on their usual long, rambling conversations about anything. Blaine supposes he knows what's coming. They don't talk about it.
On the last day of filming, Kurt keeps close to Blaine's side. He lingers. He lurks in the hair and makeup room while they're getting Blaine ready. He's at Blaine's elbow while they're waiting for the crew to reset their scenes. He sits at Blaine's table during lunch even though he doesn't seem interested in the conversation about Facebook's latest additions to LifeCapture. Blaine doesn't bother pretending that he understands why Kurt does anything anymore.
At the end of the day, Artie gives a speech and thanks the crew in his usual colorful manner. "And give it up for my homeboy, Blaine Anderson, who's about to hit the big three-O over here."
There's a smattering of applause when Artie finishes. Kurt comes up behind Blaine to stand next to him. He turns to Blaine as the crowd disperses, biting his lip. "So this is it?" he asks. He looks exactly the same as he did in Artie's office, as young and as untouchable and as beautiful, and for the first time, it makes Blaine feel old.
"Yes," Blaine says. "I guess it is." He forces a smile. "Don't worry. Whoever they'll pair you up with will be great."
Kurt looks him straight in the eye. "I'll miss you," he says, and Blaine can hear the genuine emotion buried underneath the smoothness of his digitized voice.
Blaine opens his mouth. "You'll be fine," he says, instead of you don't have to. If it gets bad enough, they can wipe Blaine from his memories, go through the last six years and scrub out every moment they've spent together until Blaine is nothing more than a footnote to Kurt, too.
"Sure," Kurt says, though it doesn't sound like he believes it.
"It's been a pleasure working with you," Blaine says. He holds out a hand. Might as well end this like it started.
Kurt shakes it. His grip is stronger than it used to be, and there's a few different expressions flitting across his face when before it was just indifferent calm. "You too," he says softly.
"Good luck," Blaine says even though he knows Kurt won't need it. He lets go of Kurt's hand, and that's it. It's done.
The next movie Blaine sees in theaters is Kurt's first movie without him. Kurt's new co-star is a bouncy blond guy by the name of Chandler. The movie's about a pop star who eventually falls in love with one of his biggest fans. It's a sweet film overall, full of earnest speeches and goofy performance scenes. Kurt's playing it broader than he usually does, more like he did in the beginning, awkward and ungainly, more obviously a simulacrum of human feeling now that Blaine has seen him pull off something more real.
Blaine's at a matinée, so the theater is sparsely populated, and there's not much reaction from the crowd. When the movie finishes, the sun is still up. The sky is still that hazy LA blue. Blaine spends his drive home thinking about Kurt getting his memory wiped, that they might have rewound everything so that they could shape him into something different, something new, and the version of Kurt that Blaine knew, that Blaine worked with, has been put away, locked up in a hard drive in some basement somewhere. It doesn't hurt-- not really. It just makes him feel old and tired.
Blaine had a dream once about flying through the air, like Superman. It wasn't so much the real thing as much as the idea of the real thing, the sun high above him, the clouds below, the rush of the wind in his face. There'd been nothing to tie him down, to hold him back, just the edge of the horizon in the distance, and the chance to reach for it, to never stop.
That night when Blaine goes to bed, he doesn't dream.