Blaine had texted ahead to say that he'd be late for their morning coffee run, but that was fine as far as Kurt was concerned. Five minutes to sip his coffee alone was five minutes spent waking up properly, allowing caffeine to lubricate the gears of his brain and thus make him less likely to say something ridiculous when the boy finally showed up. He could start his day calm, attentive, witty, and make Blaine give him that smile.
(Sure, Blaine had by now seen him at his stupidest, angriest and least cool, so all hope of ever impressing him was pretty much gone, but that was no reason to let his standards slip.)
The barista slid his order across the counter, and he exchanged a polite smile with her as he picked it up. All the tables near the front of the store were already filled with the morning crowd, so he was making his way towards the back of the room, where booths and plush chairs offered a little more privacy, when his attention was caught by a gasp and muffled cursing.
Sinking as low as she could on a couch not six feet from him was Santana, clutching a travel mug to her chest and studiously avoiding eye-contact.
Kurt hesitated. Obviously she wanted him to leave her alone, and they'd never exactly been each others' favourite person anyway... but on the other hand, he had a wait before Blaine got here, and his curiousity was piqued. Nosiness it was. Hitching his bag a little further up his shoulder, he stepped closer and tried a cautious, "Hi."
"Oh my God, go away," Santana muttered, swiping a hand under her nose. She still wouldn't meet his eyes, but he noticed hers were red and puffy - never a good look to start the day with. "You are, like, the last person I want to see right now. I don't even usually go here. They don't give free refills and the baristas aren't even hot."
"No, I know that," Kurt said slowly, trying to remember if he'd ever heard that kind of desperation in her voice. Maybe last year when coach Sylvester had that breakdown before Nationals? "I mean, about you not going here. Did something happen to the Starbucks in town? I know that's where you and Brittany normally go."
She stared at him wide-eyed for a second and then, to his horror, burst into tears.
He was paralysed for a moment, his unprepared brain grinding to life. Red eyes. Moodiness. Sudden tears. "Oh, God, you're not drunk again, are you?" he blurted.
Even with her face scrunched unattractively from crying, she still managed an admirably filthy look. "No. God, sit down already. People are looking."
They actually weren't, as far as he could tell, but he sat hurriedly anyway. "What's going on?" he said, curling his fingers tightly around his mocha. "Did something happen with Brit?"
That got an actual whimper out of her, before she took a shuddering breath and swiped at her streaming eyes. Kurt automatically felt around for his handkerchief. She gave him a dubious look when he passed it to her, but the scorn was blunted by how miserable she still looked, and he couldn't bring himself to get defensive over it. "Ugh. I suppose if I can talk to anyone about it, it's you," she mumbled, dabbing at the mascara smears on her cheekbones. Kurt did his best to look calm, attentive, and not remotely judgemental, because Santana had a hair-trigger when she was upset and he really didn't want to get punched.
So she told him. She told him about Brittany, and Ms. Holliday's sacred sexy sharing circle, and going all Dixie Chicks in front of the Glee club. She told him about facing her fears and pouring her heart out and getting totally shot down. Kurt listened, wide-eyed and with a feeling of empathy he could never have imagined feeling for Santana; their shoulders bowed, their heads bent, the world reduced to her hitching breaths and quiet voice.
Which was why neither of them noticed when Blaine walked in.
Blaine was actually pretty pleased with himself: considering that he'd decided late last night that he could totally leave his math homework until the morning before class, he was hardly late at all. Since he prided himself on punctuality, and hated to lose time that could be better spent hanging out with Kurt, he was pleased to note that he was breezing into the Lima Bean only eight minutes behind schedule. Time to queue up and look around to see which table Kurt had grabbed.
And... huh. Kurt was near the back, on a couch turned towards the wall for privacy, but he wasn't alone; instead, he was deep in conversation with a dark-haired girl. Blaine had to crane his neck to see her face (and managed to shuffle to the front of the line without paying attention; the barista had to say, "Sir?" three times before Blaine noticed and placed his order), but he eventually recognised Santana. That was a little odd, since he'd never gotten the impression that she and Kurt were really friends - she had a great voice, but she seemed hostile a lot of the time, and he couldn't remember ever seeing Kurt talk to her before. The look on her face wasn't hostile right now, though. More like heartbroken.
Gathering his order from the counter, Blaine slowly approached them, wondering about the etiquette of dropping in on a private conversation when he was already expected - maybe if he caught Kurt's eye? But no, Kurt's back was to him, and he seemed really focused on what Santana was saying. He supposed he could send a text, but that would interrupt just as much and also seemed kind of passive-aggressive, and Blaine usually tried to avoid that (when he wasn't entrenched in unexpected arguments about sexual orientation). He stood there wavering until a less indecisive customer barged past him with an irritable expression, and he realised he was blocking the aisle. Okay, so... find a seat until they were done talking, then.
If the only seats left in the cafe happened to be within earshot of the pair, that was totally not Blaine's fault.
Okay, fine, maybe it was. He honestly meant to just find a table and wait until the opportunity to casually walk over there arose, but it somehow turned into a stealth mission. He didn't want one of them to just glance up and see him sitting by himself in case it made either of them feel awkward, so he had to find somewhere surreptitious. That happened to be behind a counter stacked with sugar packets, spice shakers and syrup bottles, which was in some kind of bizarre acoustic sweet spot that allowed him to hear their hushed voices perfectly. Which was fine, he reasoned, sipping his coffee and trying desperately to look nonchalant. It wasn't like he was eavesdropping. At least, not on purpose. At least, not because he was nosy.
"I have to admire your courage," Kurt was murmering, a mix of awe and concern in his voice that made Blaine ache a little. "I know how much it sucks being out in that place."
"Stop it. Don't do that, okay?" Santana's voice was wobbly. "You're thinking, Oh, Santana's totally gay now, she's just like me. Well, I'm not, okay? I'm not like that. I like screwing dudes too, it's just..." she sniffled, sounding miserable. "Nobody's ever made me feel like she does."
"Okay," Kurt said quietly. Then, with a lighter note in his voice, "Still, I think the double standard would work in your favour."
Santana made a thoroughly cynical noise. "Oh, please. People think it's hot when you make out with a chick at a party, okay? If they think they can get a threesome out of it, then it's fine. But the second word got around that I was all exclusive with her or whatever? That's just being a dyke, and there's nothing cool about that. But I was willing to do it. I really was. And she just..." Santana whimpered, and dissolved into incoherent tears again.
Eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, isn't that what they said? Well, clearly this conversation was all about Santana. Blaine tuned them out deliberately, simply waiting for the tone of the conversation to change so he could go over there and say hi. He wasn't eavesdropping.
Except then Santana snapped, "Oh, what would you know about it anyway? You're living the frigging dream now, gaying it up all you want. You've even got lead singer boy following you around like a puppy, so don't tell me you know what it's like," and okay, no, he totally was.
Kurt's voice was quiet, steady: "It's not like that."
There was a tension there that Blaine didn't think the statement quite merited. Sure, it was crudely put, but that seemed par for the course with this girl. And besides, Blaine thought, smiling ruefully, the way he tagged along with Kurt to all things McKinley might be seen as a little puppyish.
Santana gave an inelegant snort - the kind that sounded like there was real snot in it. She clearly hadn't been having the pretty kind of cry. "Oh, really? What, pint-size isn't your type?"
Kurt sounded like he had his teeth gritted. "This isn't about me, Santana."
Santana blew her nose loudly. After it, her voice, while still a little hoarse, sounded cooler, almost steely. "It is now. I mean, I know you're the sassy gay friend all the chicks go to when they're feeling fat or whatever, but I'm not one of your hags, okay, and I don't actually care about you staying sexless and unthreatening. So. You think you can make me feel better? Answer the question. What, are you just not into him?"
"Of course I am," Kurt hissed, frustration audible, and Blaine gave an embarrassing, choked-off gasp because he hadn't realised he was holding his breath.
"Okay," Santana went on, relentless, "So why aren't you hitting that?"
"Because he doesn't want me to."
"No, really," Kurt said. He sounded brittle. He sounded angry. "There were a few months there when I thought he did; he took me out to coffee and movies and plays all the time, and he cornered me in the study room one night to sing 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' with him - did you know, the first time I met him, he held my hand? He's always doing that, he's always touching me, and sitting close, like it's no big deal, and I thought it meant something, but... it didn't. I mean it did; I just-- I read too much into it." His breath shuddered. "And then he roped me into helping him serenade this hipster junior manager at The Gap, and it turned out he had no idea that I felt that way, and he gave me the 'oops, let's just be friends' talk. And then, just to really hammer it home, we come to Rachel's party, where he proved that if he's wasted enough, even girls are a more attractive prospect than I am. I get it. I don't have a sexy face."
"Um," Santana said. "Well, no. I mean, you look like you're twelve, and you totally sound like it. If anyone thought that was sexy, I'd call the cops."
"Thanks, Santana," Kurt snapped. "I got the point."
There was a long pause. Blaine took the time to carefully peel his hands off his hot coffee cup. He stared at his palms, which were now red and throbbing. Come to think of it, an echo of that was starting up in his temples.
Kurt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "God. Okay, that sounded a lot more bitter than I meant it to," he said. His voice was steady again. Warm, even, with a touch of his old humour. Blaine, on the other side of a table full of sweetener, was trying not to freak out in public. "Blaine's amazing. He really is the best friend I've got at Dalton, and I wouldn't trade him for anything."
"You're full of crap," Santana said flatly. "If a dude pulled that on me, I'd want to make him miserable."
"He can't help the way he feels any more than I can," Kurt insisted. "It's not his fault that he doesn't want me back. It's not anyone's fault."
"Bull. Shit," Santana repeated. "It's his fault. It's all his fault." There was another pause, and then a bubbling, hitching noise, and then sobs. "It's all her fault," she wept.
"Oh, Santana," Kurt sighed. Then, ruefully: "I told you this wasn't about me."
"Shut up," Santana sobbed. "Why doesn't she want me back? Why? I'm awesome! I've been her best friend, like, forever, and it's not like I can't make her happy! I mean, we've been doing it since before we even knew what we were doing - oh, get your fingers out of your ears, you dork - how could she choose Artie over me?"
"How about I get you another cookie?" Kurt asked. "For the road? We... kind of have school."
Oh, right, Blaine thought blankly. That. Where he would be interacting with Kurt for the rest of the day. He'd spend the whole of today watching Kurt's face - which didn't look twelve; it looked like Kurt, and it looked perfect - and every moment Blaine looked at it now, he'd wonder just how Kurt was keeping up that sweet, fond, interested smile when it turned out he had a laundry list of reasons to hate Blaine.
Santana made miserable keening noises. "All the cookies!" she choked out. There was a bubbling sound as she blew her nose again. "And maybe a slice of mud cake."
Exiting the Lima Bean before Kurt and Santana did, without Kurt seeing his car, was another insane stealth mission - next time, Blaine thought numbly, it might be better to just interrupt.
The bell wasn't due to ring for a quarter hour or more. Blaine had sent a hasty text message on the way over as an alibi (Sorry, got so caught up I lost track of time - see you @ Dalton? to which Kurt had replied No problem, ran into Santana. EPIC DRAMA OMG) and settled in the study room, trying to look like he'd been doing something productive with his morning and also like his heart wasn't still trying to beat its way out of his throat. From the strange look David was giving him, he wasn't quite succeeding. "If Kurt asks," Blaine said, as deadly serious as he had ever been in his life, "I was here the whole time."
"Ooookay," David said mildly, and went back to his biology textbook.
When Kurt strode in, he looked fresh-faced, perky, smiling at Blaine like it was any other morning. He was also holding two coffee cups. "Hey," Blaine managed.
"Hey yourself," Kurt said, setting one of the cups in front of Blaine as he took the seat across from him. "I figured you might need this."
Steam piped out of the plastic lid like an accusation. Blaine felt his throat tighten. "You got me coffee?"
"Well, I figured you might need it," Kurt teased. "What possessed you to leave your homework until the morning?"
"It was just a set of algebra questions," Blaine mumbled, automatically defensive. "And, uh. Rock Band. There's always just one more song, you know?" Kurt nodded sympathetically. Blaine was starting to feel incredibly sheepish, and the more Kurt sat across from him, looking fond and completely unruffled, the less real the events of half an hour ago seemed. "So, uh, you were talking to Santana? What was the drama?" What the hell, was he a masochist all of a sudden?
Kurt's eyes widened dramatically and he let out a theatrical whoosh of breath. "Okay. So do you remember her and Brittany? You probably remember her doing tequila shots off of Brittany's abs and Rachel's party, right?"
Blaine nodded mutely. As much as he remembered anything from that party, that image was one of the fun ones.
"Right," Kurt said, and then licked his lips, suddenly uncertain. "Oh, wow, I never thought I'd tell you this, but I guess it's kind of relevant. So... for about a week last year, I went out with Brittany."
The frantic hamster wheel in Blaine's head abruptly ground to a halt. "Wait, what?"
Kurt stared at the table, a blush crawling up his cheeks. "Yeah. I was going through this... phase. It didn't last long."
"So... when you were saying all that stuff about bisexuals just being gay guys pretending, you were just--"
"--Being a hypocrite? Yes," Kurt said evenly.
"I was going to say, 'projecting'," Blaine offered diplomatically. He sat back, fingers curling absently around his cup of coffee. Though the cup he'd already had was roiling acidly in his stomach, he risked a sip to give himself time to recover. "Wow. So, you dated Brittany. What was it like?"
"Awkward for all concerned," Kurt said breezily, then amended, "Well, except Brittany. It takes a lot to make her feel awkward. Anyway, the ironic thing is, Brittany and Santana actually are bisexual. Wait, at least I think that's ironic." He shook his head, frowning. "Years of English teachers have done their best, but Alanis Morissette has me permanently confused on the subject."
Blaine had the same problem, but he wasn't about to admit it. "So, Brittany and Santana?" he prompted.
"Well, it's been going around school that they sleep together for a while, but most people just assumed it was because they'll mack on anything that moves. Seriously: Brittany asked me out just so she could complete her perfect record, and Santana has built up an immunity to mono. It's actually a little disturbing." Blaine could only nod. He was frequently disturbed by the things he heard about McKinley High. "But then," Kurt went on, eyes wide, "it turns out that the reason Santana's been such a special brand of awful lately is that she's really in love with Brittany and didn't know how to deal with it, but then yesterday she finally asked Brit to be her girlfriend for real - and Brittany turned her down."
Kurt paused significantly, and Blaine hoped he looked suitably taken aback. "Wow," he tried. "That's pretty harsh."
Kurt nodded sagely. "The worst part? Brittany would have said yes, except she's been dating Artie and she wants to stay true to him. Santana just... missed her chance." Kurt sat back and sighed. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of wish I was there for them. I don't know whether to root for them to get together or tell Santana to lady up and deal with it."
"Well, that's hardly fair," Blaine said, mouth engaging without the brain's permission. "Maybe Santana just didn't know how she felt, before. Maybe she was waiting for Brittany to make a move."
Kurt squinted at him. "Um. Well, maybe, but Santana told me that Brittany wanted to do a Melissa Etheridge duet with her a while ago and Santana turned it down because it sounded gay." He frowned. "And then she did an Ike and Tina Turner duet with Mercedes instead. I don't know how that was supposed to be better."
"But still," Blaine said, despite desperately willing himself to stop talking, "Maybe it's not too late. Maybe Brittany will change her mind and then Santana won't have totally lost her chance at making Brittany happy!"
Kurt shrugged. "Well, maybe. I mean, this is already the longest relationship I think Brittany's ever had, and everyone in that choir room treats dating like a game of musical chairs anyway. Made me glad I wasn't a part of it," he added with a superior smile, but Blaine had seen that smile too many times not to know that it was fake. He watched it fade into something smaller, more wistful.
Blaine didn't know how he felt, and he didn't know what he was doing. He just knew that he never, ever wanted to hear Kurt sound the way he had talking to Santana - so frustrated, so miserable - because of him ever again. And he wasn't Santana, but he now had this selfish horror of waking up one day wanting Kurt only to find that Kurt had moved on. Blaine had said that he didn't want to screw up what they had, but some small part of his brain had Kurt's embittered voice on a loop, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, he'd been going about it the wrong way.
"So, hey," he said quietly, and when he met Kurt's eyes he hoped that the rush of warmth he felt was visible in his expression. "Do you want to maybe see a movie this weekend?"
"I thought there was nothing on you wanted to see?" Kurt said, curious.
Oh, right: Blaine had already spent a lunch hour bemoaning the pre-summer slump. "Uh, well," he hedged, racking his brain for the least terrible-looking option, and came up with, "That's what I said before I knew anything more about The Adjustment Bureau than its incredibly dull title."
Had that sounded remotely plausible? Oh, good, Kurt was nodding thoughtfully. "A secret Philip K. Dick fan," he mused, a corner of his mouth ticking up. "I should have known."
The bell rang right as Blaine smiled back in relief, and Kurt hopped to his feet. "See you at lunch?" he said breathlessly, already halfway out the door as Blaine answered the affirmative. Blaine downed his coffee and picked up his bag, this morning's algebra problems sandwiched innocently between textbooks.
You couldn't Google how to love someone (well, you could, but the search results would assume you were being euphemistic). The only other option was real-world experience, and Blaine didn't have much. Kurt wasn't older, like Jeremiah. He wasn't aggressive, like Rachel. Blaine had seen enough of his gawky sweetness that it was hard to think of him as a sexual creature, especially since his grandest romantic ambition seemed to be having someone hold his hand and mean it.
Blaine didn't know if he'd mean it. He didn't know if he could. But he got the feeling that the very least he could do was find out, for his sake and for Kurt's.
Operation Salvage was a go.