Chapter 1: There was this girl, and she looked like a school teacher
Kurt spreads the brochures out on the table after dinner.
"I've been thinking about colleges," he says. "Senior year starts soon and I want to be sure I've got everything planned out. I'd hate to end up at my second choice because I hadn't taken the right extra-curricular, or worse, because I hadn't realised it wasn't my first choice."
Finn is white, fingers gripping the table so tightly Kurt half expects to find dents in it at breakfast tomorrow.
"That's very organised of you, Kurt," Carole says.
"What I'd like to do, ideally," Kurt says, "is have a look around some of the campuses in advance, maybe talk to some current students, to get a better idea of what I'm letting myself in for."
"I see," says his dad, and from the dry tone Kurt knows his gambit hasn't been entirely successful. "And how many of these colleges are in this state?"
"None," Kurt says. They've had this conversation before and even if Carole looks a little surprised his dad doesn't. "But several of them are in the same state, which means I could hit them all in one trip."
"And this state is New York?"
Kurt pushes the three most-leafed-through brochures towards his dad and Carole. Julliard. NYU. Syracuse.
"Blaine's dad is an NYU alumni," Kurt tells his father carefully. "One of his friends has a son there, Peyton. He could show us around."
It's not even a question.
"It would be a little strange to meet him without Blaine there," Kurt says, but he knows it's too late. Goodbye, New York.
"And will Blaine's father be there?"
"I... don't know." He can't lie to his father, and he knows it, but now seems as good a time as any to give it a shot. "Probably? But he'll be working."
"Finn, have you looked at any colleges yet?" Burt's attention is drawn away from Kurt for just a split second by Carole's question, and for a moment Kurt thinks he might be about to get away with this.
"I. Um." Finn is staring at the brochures on the table, panic in his eyes. "NYU?"
Carole turns to Burt. "Do you think we can trust our boys in the big apple?" she asks him. "Together?"
"Hell no," Burt says. "Besides, you want to send our sons to a place neither of us have ever seen?"
"I can't take any more time off work this year," Carole says.
"I can. Besides, it's about time I got to know Mr Anderson."
Well fuck, Kurt thinks. Now he's going on a romantic weekend to New York with his boyfriend, his stepbrother, his dad, and his boyfriend's dad. And his boyfriend's dad doesn't even know they're dating.
"Rachel wants to go to Julliard," Finn says. "Her dads have an apartment in the city. We could. Um. Take her and stay there?"
Kurt slumps back in his seat and wonders if anyone else would like to come along. Karofsky, perhaps. Sue Sylvester. The rest of New Directions.
"I'll call the Berrys," Burt says. "And then the Andersons."
That gives Blaine approximately twenty minutes to man up and tell his dad he's got a boyfriend. Or that he had one twenty minutes ago, but dumped him for planning the least romantic weekend away in the universe.
Either way, Kurt should probably give him some warning.
He's been getting better about stuff like this. When Ryan introduces his boyfriend, Chad only entertains thoughts of splitting them up for the first few hours, and doesn't let himself take any of the plans far enough to start considering them seriously.
He really doesn't want the whole awkwardness thing he has with Gabriella being replicated just because he hates it when his friends ditch him for their significant others. Gabi's nice about it now, but it's still pretty strained when Troy leaves them alone together. He's going to be best man at their wedding some day, and he's going to grovel like mad during his speech, but sometimes when he sees them together he still wants to just shove her off a cliff or something so he can have his best friend back.
At least Gabi's nice. Ryan's boyfriend is kind of an ass. He keeps going on about how talented he is and how many awards he's got and this stupid business he's set up that's something to do with singing and Chad may have stopped listening and mentally synced Donald Duck noises up with his lips for a while there. Ryan's obviously not completely besotted, not like Troy is with Gabi, but he's still petting his boyfriend's hand and letting him order for both of them and shooting Chad pissed off looks whenever it's obvious Chad's attention has wandered.
Luckily, they're going to see Sharpay's show, which means the guy will have to shut up for a while. Chad's not looking forward to it - big theatres inspire a terror of chandeliers falling on his head and an intense craving for a sandwich thanks to a certain photo - but the plot looks pretty straight forward and he figures as long as he remembers something about the first number and the last Sharpay will take a couple of compliments and blank him for the rest of the night without bothering to eviscerate him first. He'll nap through the rest.
Sharpay's boyfriend is refreshingly normal and Chad even remembers his name after only being told once, though that might be because Ryan told him that if Sharpay and Peyton did the name smush thing it would be "Peypay" which made them all cackle. Ryan and the ass's would be 'Jyan', which means he's probably a James or a Jake or something. James sounds right.
"How did you meet Sharpay?" Chad asks Peyton, keeping the follow up 'and why didn't you flee at once?' to himself. They've fallen a couple of steps behind Ryan and James, who have their hands in each other's back pockets. Chad can't hear them over the New York traffic and figures that's probably a good thing.
"Sat on a pile of pink cases in the middle of the sidewalk," Peyton says.
It's not quite the adoring tone Zeke used to have, but it's not completely off. Chad wishes Kelsi hadn't been busy. He could do with her brand of cutting sarcasm right now, but she's doing some kind of summer camp thing and won't be back for a week. But hey, at least he gets to sleep in her room rather than on the sofa-bed.
"I can see how that would attract a guy's attention," Chad says.
"I needed a subject for my film," Peyton says, "and I couldn't have asked for a better."
"Have you got her and Ryan doing that 'Mah' thing at each other?" Chad asks, and Peyton nods, smirk playing around his lips in a way that suggests neither twin knows he's got it.
"I could make a whole 'nother film of them together," Peyton says. "Did I tell you how I met Ryan? Sharpay's bed had folded itself back into the wall, with him in it. He wasn't even calling for help, just singing to himself. I pulled it back down and he sat up, popped his hat back into shape, and introduced himself like it was all perfectly normal."
"Welcome to the Evans," Chad says. "I ended up dancing in a country club talent show because Ryan was a Little League World Champion. Stuff like that just happens around them. How many other Julliard students land a serious role in a touring musical halfway through their first semester?" He can hear the possessive pride seeping into his voice, like Ryan is his boyfriend or something.
Peyton doesn't judge. Not out loud, anyway. "They're both incredible," he says. "They live charmed lives."
"While the rest of us serve burgers and slog away," Chad says, but there's no bite in his voice.
"Someone's got to make them look good." Peyton slings a companionable arm around Chad's shoulders. It makes him feel more like Ryan's boyfriend than ever, like he and Peyton are boyfriends-on-law, even if Ryan's actual boyfriend is the guy with his hand on Ryan's ass and his tongue in his ear. Ryan's spine is stiff with disapproval and Chad's grateful they're finally at the theatre.
Oh god, he's going to have to think of something nice to say to Sharpay.
Chapter 2: She did the Charleston to every sort of music, especially if it was punk
New York is as good as Kurt remembered, and even better for having Blaine at his side. Plus, when they get back to Ohio Kurt will finally be free again, having been grounded for lying to his father ever since he, well, lied to his father. He still can't believe Carole talked his dad round, that she persuaded him to still take them (and them is now Kurt, Finn, Blaine, and Rachel, who keeps overruling his dad every time he makes a suggestion).
They're meeting Peyton the day after tomorrow, which he's looking forward to even if he has set his heart on Julliard already. He's taken to hiding the brochure with his porn stash to make sure no one tries to take it away from him
Mr Anderson hasn't come with them, but they'll probably see him at some point during the week. There's this whole really awkward dinner scheduled, with Kurt and Blaine and both dads.
"One of dad's business contacts has a son at Julliard," Blaine says. He insisted on carrying Kurt's luggage, so Kurt insisted on carrying his. Blaine got the worse end of the bargain, but he's taking it manfully. There's only another four flights of stairs before they hit the Berry apartment. "Ryan Evans. I met him a few times. Nice guy, a bit shy."
"Shy?" Rachel glances back down the stairs at them, one eyebrow raised.
"Not shy, exactly," Blaine corrects himself, and pauses to take a couple of deep breaths before he continues, "but shyer than his sister." Another deep breath, and Kurt wonders if he could make Blaine gasp like that, raise his heartrate and make him sweat. He blushes and hopes the others will assume it's from the stairs. "It's a little strange to imagine them separate, to be honest. He's probably changed a lot."
Blaine sounds skeptical enough that Kurt asks, "Changed how?"
"Well, it was all pastels and hats and dressing to match his sister, when I met them. I mean, dressing twins alike is cute at five, but weird at fifteen. Big into show tunes. That probably hasn't changed."
Finn reappears, taking one of Kurt's bags from Blaine.
The apartment is a spacious studio, sparsely furnished. Kurt imagines the kind of parties he could throw if he had a place like this to himself. It's a bit short on beds, and his dad is obviously torn as to how to split them up.
"You're taking the master bedroom," Kurt tells his dad firmly. "Me and Rachel will share her room, and Blaine and Finn can sleep out here."
He and Blaine already discussed this on the flight, having considered and discarded half a dozen other options for Rachel's room - Blaine and Rachel (vetoed by Kurt), Finn and Kurt (vetoed by Blaine), Blaine and Kurt (vetoed firmly by Burt). Any option that resulted in both halves of a couple in the same space got vetoed, even without Burt passing by on his way to the bathroom. Blaine was in Perfect Gentleman mode. Burt wasn't buying it, but Kurt knew his dad appreciated the fact Blaine was trying.
The door's still half open, and through it they all hear:
"Fucking lift. When's it going to be fixed?"
Followed by, "I don't know. I thought you were some kind of athlete. What's wrong with taking the stairs from time to time?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong is this is the third time today we've come back up here because you want to change hat."
The voices fade out as they continue up the stairs. Kurt's not alone in staring at Rachel
"We're practically on top of Broadway," she says. "It's kind of a gay ghetto around here. We're going to have so much fun!"
Burt's eyebrow twitches.
Chad skids to a stop outside Ryan's building. The small knot of people around the familiar hat separate, and Chad realises the guy beneath it is not his dear friend and dancing star.
The teenage cocks his head to one side, mouth pursed in the most impressive bitchface Chad's seen on anyone other than Sharpay. A bigger guy in a letterman jacket squares his shoulders, though he looks more confused than protective.
"Sorry, dude," Chad says. "Thought you were someone else. You have the exact same hat as my friend," he says. Same height and build, too, but dark hair and much more delicate features. Something in Chad's gut clenches, and he points out to himself that the guy is definitely jailbait and probably taken.
He hates the cliche of it all, but since starting college he's... experimented, a few times. Sharply dressed guys with sparkly hats and penchants for melodrama. Apparently he has a type.
Chad spins on his heel and Ryan's there. He's got one hand on his hip and, best of all, no boyfriend in tow.
"You seem really surprised to see me for someone just calling my name," Ryan says.
"Yeah, I..." Chad realises he makes a better door than a window and steps to one side. He loves the way Ryan's expression lights up. He feels like he's given Ryan a gift of some kind and it makes the embarrassment a little easier to bear.
"Exact same hat, he says," the bitchface guy comments. "Please."
"Hey, I was close," Chad objects. "Black fedora with purple band." Ryan pats him on the shoulder.
"Cha Cha's House of Ill Repute, right?" he asks bitchface. "I wish I'd seen yours; the feathers are a gorgeous touch."
"Oh, it's..." Bitchface's expression relaxes into something more neutral. "It's a couple of seasons old," he admits, "so I touched it up."
Ryan clutches his hands to his chest. "It's stunning. Oh, I want to take you home and let you loose on my wardrobe."
"He has several hundred hats," Chad says. The other jock seems to be the only one who hears him, and gives him a sympathetic look. Chad sighs, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and rocking back on his heels.
"Ryan," Ryan says.
"Kurt. This is my brother Finn," Bitchface gestures over his shoulder.
"And you've met Chad," Ryan says with a smirk. "And that's not a New York accent."
"Neither is yours," Kurt points out.
They're blocking the sidewalk and Chad herds them under the apartment building's awning. He kinda needs to pee, and the doorman won't let him in if Ryan isn't there, but there's no way to point this out without embarrassing himself further.
"Alberqueque," Ryan says.
"Well, the important thing is that you're here now!"
Finn appears to have put two and two together. "Ryan Evans," he says slowly.
"Yes." Ryan cocks his head to one side. From behind him Chad can see the tension in his shoulders. He knows it's ridiculous, but Chad can't help but hope along with him that he's been Recognised for the first time.
"Do you go to Julliard?" Finn asks.
"Yes. How did you know?"
"I think we're meeting you on Thursday," Finn says.
"Oh, my- You're Mr Anderson's friends! Yes! Oh my gosh!"
It's not a request for an autograph, but it's still got Ryan bouncing on his toes. He looks like he's about to take off and the temptation to sling an arm around his shoulders - his waist - and tether him to the earth is hard to resist. Chad's right arm moves of its own accord, but he pulls it back as he hears a shout from across the street.
"Ryan! Where did you go?" Jesse's voice is slightly plaintive, but it's obviously a put on. Ryan waves him across the street and Jesse dodges through the traffic.
"Jesse!" It's been less the five minutes, but they still give each other a quick peck on the lips.
Chad's eyes snapped to Finn. His jaw is tense and his fists are balling at his sides.
Jesse pulls away from Ryan.
"Finn! I never expected to see you here," he says, and Chad knows as sure as he knows Ryan deserves better that Jesse had seen the little gathering from the other side of the street and had thrown himself at Ryan for a reason.
"This is new," Kurt says, waving at the happy couple. Ryan's expression is guarded now and Chad gives in to the urge to put a hand on his shoulder. Ryan glances back at him.
"I suppose it must look that way to you," Jesse says. "What are you doing here? Reliving your loss?"
"Checking out colleges," Ryan says. He's quiet, but commands everyone's attention. "I'm showing them around Julliard on Thursday, and I guess you're the same group Peyton is showing around NYU tomorrow?"
Finn nods. "What about you, Jesse? Why are you still here?"
"It's a funny story, actually," Jesse says. "Ryan was in the audience at Nationals. Our eyes met, and..." He shrugs. Chad doesn't get what makes the story funny and he still needs to pee, which doesn't put him in the mood to try and figure it out. He squeezes Ryan's shoulder and nods towards the building.
"We have to go," Ryan says, "unfortunately. But I will see you-" he points at Kurt "-and your fabulous taste on Thursday."
"I can't wait," Kurt says. He doesn't sound happy about it and the bitchface has made a return.
Ryan pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of Kurt, bitchface and everything, and hands his phone over. Kurt stares at it.
"Name and number," Ryan says. "If you don't mind."
Name and Number is what Chad asks for when he can't remember a hook-up's name, but he knows with Ryan it's because of his dyslexia. He doesn't want to get someone's name wrong, no matter how simple the spelling.
Kurt handles the phone deftly. 'Born this Way' comes from his pocket and Chad figures he's drop-called himself to get Ryan's number. Finn is still glowering at Jesse, who's smirking back. Chad shifts his weight from foot to foot.
Kurt hands Ryan's phone back. Jesse loops his arm through Ryan's and leads him into the building, shaking Chad's hand from his shoulder. Chad shoves his hands back into his pockets again.
"I'm gonna get your number off Ryan," Chad tells Kurt, "and you're going to tell me what's up with Jesse, okay?"
Ryan is holding the door open and waving. He's twisted so he can't see the expression on Jesse's face, also looking at the high schoolers. It's... It's a mask, and Chad knows what it's meant to look like but there's something underneath it that, for the first time, makes him think of Jesse as more than just Ryan's boyfriend.
First, he's going to get to the bottom of this, then he's going to call one of the smart people he knows and ask what to do about it.
Okay, first he's going to pee. Then the Jesse thing.
Chapter 3: She was dancing all alone in the middle of a red carpetted room
If Kurt wasn't taken, Chad would definitely be considering hitting that, jailbait or not. Despite the fact everything's still a bit new and frightening, he's kind of considering asking if Kurt and his boyfriend might be up for a bit of fooling around anyway. He knows it's a really stupid idea, but the sound of Ryan and Jesse fucking at night is really getting to him. Oh, the bedrooms are soundproof, but Jesse keeps fucking Ryan against random bits of furniture in the den, as if to prove a point.
Chad tells Kurt he thinks it's something to do with him, that Jesse's insecure about Chad's presence in Ryan's life. Kurt is somewhat skeptical, and suggests that if there is a point, it's that Jesse is over his ex-girlfriend. The fact the glee kids are several floors away and pretty unlikely to hear Jesse and Ryan doesn't entirely bring Chad around to Kurt's way of thinking, but he concedes it's unlikely that it's entirely about him.
Jesse's been fairly straight with Ryan (and Chad) about what went down with him and New Directions. It's pretty consistent with Kurt's side of the story, which Jesse doesn't know Chad has. Ryan knows half of it already, and though he doesn't look happy that he's agreed to hang out with his boyfriend's ex he's going to be a gentleman about it. Chad texts Kurt and begs him to rein in Finn and Rachel. Not for Jesse's sake, but for Ryan's.
He ends up calling Gabi for advice, partly to show her how much he's grown since junior year. He's trying to make sure Ryan's happy even though he doesn't like the fact he's in a relationship.
"I did wonder," Gabi says, "if half the reason you and Ryan got so close so quickly is because you knew the odds of him finding a boyfriend at East High were so low."
"He had hook-ups," Chad says, but concedes the point.
He's stretched out on the bed, feet on the pillows. It's Kelsi's room normally – the only person in New York with a hat collection to rival Ryan's and possessor of some really fucking obscure musical posters – but she's away until the end of the week on some intense composer camp. It's been going on pretty much all summer, so she hasn't even met Jesse yet, for all that the guy's basically moved in.
Chad'll be sleeping on the couch come Saturday, and he's not looking forward to it. Ryan and Jesse have fucked there four times so far, that he's aware of.
"Have you ever considered seeing a therapist about how possessive you get?" she asks.
"Been there, done that," he says. From her silence he realises this is news to her. "Seventh grade," he explains. "There was a whole thing with my brother moving to Australia and, yeah, I got kinda clingy with people after that."
"Sorry," Gabi says. Chad flinches; he hadn't meant to make her feel bad. He knows he's got issues, okay? And he knows he kinda took them out on her. Though that might also have been a certain amount of confusion over how Troy could ever want to spend time with some girl more than an awesome guy like Chad, and in retrospect he's surprised he never figured out he was gay earlier.
"With Ryan," Chad says, feeling out the words carefully, "it might be a bit different to you and Troy."
"Different how?" Gabi asks, voice neutral.
"Not so much possessive as... jealous." He's told Troy some stuff, because Troy is his bro, but he couched it in very vague terms and for once Troy had actually kept his promise about keeping it to himself. Chad's taken to thinking of Troy's self as including Gabi, these days, but it's good to know the guy knows where to draw the line. "Ryan deserves better. And. I think I'd be better."
Gabi giggles. Chad bristles and she must be able to hear it or something because she says, "That's really sweet, Chad. You'd make a great couple. But he is with Jesse and you have to respect that."
It occurs to Chad that there's one person out there who's never respected that. Perhaps he's called the wrong girl.
"It's clearly a rebound thing," Chad says, his last line of argument against someone who didn't approve of scheming. "Jesse was at the singing thing, and his ex-girlfriend he was trying to get back together with kissed her ex - her other ex - right on stage. And ten minutes later Jesse runs into Ryan and it's all gazing into each other's eyes and nibbling on each other's ears. You can't tell me to just stand by while Ryan's first serious boyfriend breaks his heart."
"I know it sounds bad, but Ryan knows everything you do. You have to let him make his own mistakes."
"So, what, I can be his rebound?"
"I don't know." Gabi sighs. "If he does get hurt, Chad, he's going to need a friend. That's what you have to be for him, first and foremost."
There's a distinctly masculine grunt and Chad wonders how much of this conversation Troy's been in on. He sounds like he just woke up, so he figures it can't be much. It occurs to Chad it's probably quite early in California. He's not great at timezones.
"Don't make a move as soon as they split," Troy says, voice scratchy. "We are way too far away to pick up the pieces from that."
"And who's fault is that?" Chad asks, stung.
Troy just laughs at him. He pictures them in bed together. Oh god, they're going to have sex as soon as he hangs up, aren't they?
"Just..." Gabi sighs again. "Look after yourself, and look after him, okay, Wildcat?"
It's nice being called Wildcat again, even if Gabi uses it with so many people sometimes he wonders if she ever bothered learn anyone's names at East High. No one calls him Redhawk.
"Bye," Chad says.
"Bye, Bro. Don't fuck it up."
Chad hangs up. Yeah, they're definitely going to have sex. Everyone is having sex apart from him. And the high schoolers, because Kurt's dad has apparently taken it on himself to cockblock everyone in their apartment.
Ryan sticks his head around Kelsi's door.
"Ready for NYU?" he asks. "Apparently Sharpay's bedroom is on the tour."
"Has Peyton told her that?"
"You're kidding; it's her idea. Let them see how the Queen of Broadway lives."
"Is there a bar near where the Queen of Broadway lives?"
Despite the fact they're apparently all staying in the same building, Blaine doesn't actually see the Evans or their retinue (as Kurt puts it) until they meet at NYU.
No one could call this Ryan shy. He's wearing an outfit Kurt would be proud of: bright orange patent leather knee high boots and black skinny jeans with a black button down shirt over an undershirt the same shade of orange as his boots. And a matching hat, of course. Okay, so Kurt wouldn't wear it in orange, but still. Even in New York people are paying attention to Ryan.
As Ryan approaches, Jesse and a black guy (Chad?) trailing behind, a girl dressed entirely in hot pink intercepts them.
"That's Sharpay," Blaine tells the others. "She's-"
"Sharpay Evans?" Rachel's voice is shrill enough the knot of college kids glance in their direction. "Sharpay Evans of 'A Girl's Best Friend'? Sharpay Evans who went from nobody to Broadway Superstar in a month?"
"You may kiss my hand." Sharpay is in front of them, and Blaine can't work out how she managed to move so fast and so quietly in heels like those. She holds out her hand to Rachel, who's stunned enough that she actually bends to kiss it. Sharpay laughs and hands Rachel a bag. "This is Boi. He's the real talent."
Rachel looks confused until a small dog sticks it head out of the bag.
"Blaine!" Ryan dives towards him. "It's been so long! You haven't grown a bit!"
He's so stunned he can't find a way to object to the crack about his height. This isn't the Ryan he'd met when his dad had gone to Lava Springs to talk land value and property law with Mr Evans. That Ryan was little more than a pastel-tinted shadow trailing behind his sister for most of that visit, though Blaine had ended up trailing behind him most of the time. Ryan was the first out and proud guy he'd met, and he'd made an impression. Though if Blaine had thought he was proud then this Ryan was a revelation; if he'd met this Ryan back in junior high he'd probably have done something really stupid. Like serenade him with a song about sex toys.
"Blaine!" Sharpay waves at him. "Look, I know it's rude to ask, but-"
It's still the same Sharpay, though. "Oh, 100% gay," Blaine says.
Ryan reaches a hand over his shoulder in a gesture even Blaine finds camp. Sharpay slaps a fifty into it. Ryan sticks it in his back pocket without ruining the line of his pants.
Blaine's being stared at by pretty much everyone except Chad, who's checking out the line of Ryan's pants. Interesting.
Blaine knows he can't afford to show weakness, not in this crowd, so he grins and nods at Ryan to explain.
"We made a bet," Ryan says, like it was perfectly normal to wager on the sexuality of someone who, last time he'd seen the twins, was barely thirteen.
"The fact that neither of you bet on 'straight' gave me something to think about," Blaine says dryly.
"I hadn't realised you were in earshot." Ryan sounds chagrined. Sharpay roles her eyes.
"So." This must be Peyton. He's got a kind of straight-boy chic thing going on and a videocamera surgically attached to his hand. "Shall we get this show on the road?"
They walk for what feels like miles. According to Blaine's iPhone app it actually is.
Kurt's impressed by NYU, but Blaine's smitten. It's Greenwich Village. And he could do law, like his dad wants. In Greenwich Village.
Burt stays quiet, but Blaine can tell he likes it more than he's willing to let on. He asks Peyton questions about GPAs and extra-curriculars that seem to lean more towards Finn's high school career than Kurt's.
They end up in some student housing. The apartments would be called 'studio' by a realtor and 'one room' by anyone else, but they're a pretty decent size. Blaine can imagine getting somewhere like this when he moves to New York; maybe somewhere a little bigger if he and Kurt pool their resources (or maybe Rachel's dads' apartment, if he and Kurt play their cards right).
Peyton knows everyone and Sharpay deigns to greet a select few, and eventually they rock up in the pinkest apartment Blaine has even seen. He's never even imagined this much pink. Even pinker than Rachel's room.
"Ryan's pet jock," Sharpay says, apparently referring to Chad. The black guy looks at her like she's crazy. "There's a coffee shop across the street."
"Get us some coffee," she says, like he should have figured that out by now.
"I'm not your waiter here," he says.
Blaine's surprised Burt's willing to leave them unsupervised, but he figures maybe the pink is getting to him. Or the chance to get coffee with cream and sugar. Kurt eyeballs his father, and Blaine reaches over to squeeze his hand. You had to let them fly the nest some time; Kurt wouldn't always be there to make sure his dad ate right, and he just had to learn to trust the guy to cope on his own.
"Go with him, Danforth," Sharpay says. "Peyton has a latte, one sugar, and you know what Ryan and I take."
So they go round and repeat their coffee orders like it's not completely weird that the only black guy present is playing waiter.
"I'll have the same as Ryan," Jesse says in a sickly sweet tone. Kurt catches Blaine's eye and rolls his own. Blaine doesn't know Jesse well enough to judge whether or not he's being genuine, but Kurt's suspicions are beginning to look pretty justified.
Chad holds the door open for Burt, and follows him out. As they disappear down the corridor Blaine overhears, "So, can we get beer instead?"
"I don't know, can you get beer instead?"
"Depends how closely they check my ID."
They don't come back.
Chapter 4: Everyone was watching but pretending not to
I swear, I'm genuinely not someone who only updates when they get comments. I just... I'm very easily distracted! I've been meaning to get back to this for a while. I have a few more chapters already written, but I haven't got to the end yet.
Chad likes Burt. He reminds Chad of his own father. Even drinks the same beer.
"So I've got to meet the kid's dad on Friday," Burt says. "The way Blaine tells it, his dad is still trying to ignore the fact he's gay, so fuck knows what's going to happen."
"Poor guy," Chad says. "I was worried my dad might be like that, but apparently he and mom figured it out before I did."
He's not had enough to drink to justify outing himself to a guy he just met, but this whole Jesse thing keeps going round and round in his head and Gabi was no help at all.
"Yeah? I've known Kurt was gay since he was a kid. He wanted sensible heels for his third birthday. I don't know how Mr Anderson's managed to convince himself Blaine might not be."
Chad's still mentally 'awwing' over toddler Kurt in court shoes, so all he can muster is a shrug.
"But we're going to have dinner anyway, in some swanky up-town place. No matter what I wear Kurt won't approve. All I know about this guy is he got Blaine to help him put a car together in an attempt to make him straight, and I could have told him that wouldn't work. I mean, I practically raised Kurt in the garage after his mom died, and look where that got us."
"Ryan called me on three separate occasions because he thought his car had died, but it was just out of gas. I don't think he ever set foot in autoshop. It might have helped."
"That Jesse kid is bad news," Burt says.
"What does your friend Ryan see in him?"
"I don't know. Scarves?" Chad wrinkles his nose. "I think he's mostly happy just to have a boyfriend."
"Better no boyfriend than a bad one."
"You tell him that. Coming from me it sounds... Well, let's say I have precedent when it comes to hating on friends' SOs."
Chad pushes himself off the bar. He's only had one beer, but it feels like more. It's been a long time since he last ate.
"We should go back before Sharpay brainwashes the lot of them," he says. "She'll make them be her back up singers."
Burt laughs. "She's got another thing coming if she thinks Kurt or Rachel will ever settle for a supporting role."
"I know," Sharpay says from behind them, and Chad slides off the barstool in shock. "I swear, I need to win a Tony this year, or one of them is going to get there before me."
For anyone else that would be a sign of humility, but on Sharpay's tongue it's a matter-of-fact statement of ambition.
"Mr Hummel," she says, "I need to talk to Danforth. Would you fetch the coffees, please, and we'll meet you outside the apartment."
Burt shoots Chad a concerned look. Chad hopes when he meets Burt's eyes what he conveys is 'Don't worry, I've dealt with this crazy longer than you have' rather than 'if she kills me avenge my death'. Either way, Burt nods his assent and heads to the coffee place across the street.
"I'll have a Manhattan," Sharpay tells the bartender, who doesn't move. Sharpay sighs. "Fine. Cranberry juice. But just so you know, this guy-" she points to Chad with both hands "-is so not twenty-one, despite the face pubes."
"Sorry," Chad says. "Can I have a coke?"
Sharpay hustles them to a table in a dark corner at the back of the bar.
"The coffee place has the slowest staff ever," she says, "so I figure we have at least ten minutes. What I want to say to you won't take that long, but I'm sure you'll try and disagree with me."
Chad sighs. He leans back in his chair, rocking on its back legs. Sharpay glowers at him. He ignores her.
Last year, when he and Sharpay were forced to share a campus, they'd reached an understanding. He helped her solve her Tiara problem, and she destroyed a barista's life for him without even asking why. It's not like they're friends or anything, but on some level Chad respects Sharpay in a way he never will Gabriella.
"You need to back off my brother," she says.
No, wait. Gabi. He likes Gabi.
"He's spent the last year getting over you," Sharpay continues, "and the last thing he needs right now is you confusing him again."
"Getting over me?"
Sharpay's eyes widen and they both realise she's made a faulty assumption.
"Ryan likes me?" Chad asks.
"Used to. He's over you." Sharpay talks in sharp, terse sentences, though Chad suspects she's more pissed off with herself than him. "Your little self-discovery has come too late."
Chad lets his chair fall back on all four legs.
"It hasn't though, has it? You wouldn't be telling me this if Ryan was actually over me."
"He lives in New York, you live in Albuquerque." Sharpay's voice gets higher as panic grips her. "He has a future on Broadway. You're going to be some high school basketball coach. He's got a boyfriend."
"You know Jesse met Ryan on the rebound from Rachel?" Chad says. "And when he and Rachel were dating he used her to gain info about their singing team and use it against them? And broke eggs in her hair?"
He can't seem to stop phrasing things in questions. His heart is pounding and his palms are sweaty.
"For conditioning?" Sharpay asks, her perfectly plucked brows knitting.
"For being a member of a rival singing club," Chad says.
"Who told you this?"
"Jesse has nothing to gain from dating Ryan." Sharpay doesn't sound certain.
Chad holds up a hand - he's been thinking about this for a while – and starts ticking reasons off on his fingers. "Your parents' money. A leg-up on Broadway. Ryan's standard of living. Sex. A way to get over Rachel Berry."
Sharpay puts a hand over Chad's, even though he's run out of fingers to tick off.
"The long distance thing would suck," Chad says, "but you know I'd be better for Ryan."
"I know nothing," Sharpay says. "Just... Back off. Until I decide what's best for him."
"He can't decide what's best for himself?"
Sharpay snorts and roles her eyes. "Yeah, because my brother's got such a good track record when it comes to romance."
"Beeeecause he's been nursing a crush on me for years?" Chad grins. He can't help himself.
"Yeah, you're the only guy Ryan has ever had eyes for." Sharpay studies her hot pink nails. "He had a crush on you in high school, okay? You were nice to him, and nice to... to look at." She looks like she can't quite believe she just said that. "But this is New York. You're fine, for a high school crush, but you're not long term relationship material. Jesse might be more Mr Right Now than Mr Right, but at least he's Mr Step in the Right Direction. He's smart and talented and ambitious, and frankly, if you think all that stuff with the glee clubs is a bad thing you don't know either me or Ryan very well."
"No, yeah. Ryan says he's cool with it," Chad admits. "But it's still basically a rebound thing." All that's running through his head is 'Ryan likes me, Ryan likes me' and it's kinda interfering with his ability to make a decent argument.
"I'll talk to him about it," Sharpay says. "If you so much as make eyes at my brother I will poke them out with my manolo blahniks. You do not compliment him, you do not 'casually' touch him, you do not wander around his apartment shirtless."
It's basically a to do list and Chad's not going to waste it.
"Mr Hummel will be waiting for us," Sharpay says, finishing off her cranberry juice. "Do not flirt with my brother without my say so." She jabs him in the chest with her manicure. "You've seen my revenge in action. Don't make me turn my brilliant mind against you."
The funny thing, Chad thinks as he follows her out of the bar, is when she puts it like that, it almost sounds like she doesn't want to hurt him.
Ryan likes him. Sharpay doesn't hate him. Things are looking up.
Ryan likes him likes him.
Burt gives him a strange look, but Chad can't stop smiling.
Sharpay's musical is... cliché. Boring. A string of stereotypes and an only moderately good score. Maybe if it wasn't so bad Sharpay wouldn't look so good, but Kurt can't keep his eyes off her. Rachel whispers quotes from reviews to him between numbers.
"...though the dialogue is overwritten, Sharpay Evans glides through it as though she speaks this way in real life..."
"...the lyrics might be nonsensical, but Sharpay Evans' voice overpowers any attempt on the part of the audience to actually parse them in English..."
"...the only stars on stage that come close to reaching Sharpay Evans' twinkling brilliance are her canine co-stars, both of whom perform admirably considering the blinding interaction between sequins and spotlights..."
But afterwards they meet her at the stage door with bouquets and they all end up with perfect pink lipstick prints on their cheeks. She sweeps them to a tiny bar a couple of blocks away, her tiny dog in her giant purse, and ushers them to a table already occupied by Chad, Peyton, Ryan and Jesse.
There's three empty beer bottles on the table, and by the looks of things they all belong to Chad. Peyton's got a rum and coke and Ryan and Jesse are sharing something Kurt can't identify, but has two umbrellas and no small amount of foliage in it. Well, there's two straws in it, but as Kurt settles into the corner of the booth he notices it's Jesse's lips that are stained blue, not Ryan's.
There's a warm weight on his thigh and Kurt glances down to confirm it's Blaine's hand. It's a little higher than Kurt's sure he's comfortable with when his dad is right there , but unless his dad has x-ray vision they're probably safe. Blaine squeezes, sending electricity up and down Kurt's spine, and he rests his hand on top of Blaine's.
"So how did you two meet?"
It takes Kurt a minute to realise Chad's talking to them. He's not really in the mood to talk, especially not to a drunk jock, but Blaine is all charm and smiles. Kurt shuffles closer and rests his head on Blaine's shoulder as his boyfriend tells a story Kurt knows by heart.
"And I told him that sometimes, it's just like you look up and think, 'Oh, there you are. I've been looking for you.'. I don't know why it took me so long to just... see him, and I'm so lucky Kurt was patient enough to wait for me to." Blaine presses a chaste kiss to Kurt's forehead. It ought to embarrass him in front of his dad, but he must be more tired than he'd realised because all he wants to do is press in tighter against Blaine and let himself be held.
He forces his attention back to Chad. There's an odd expression on the guy's face, like he's not sure if he's moved to tears or wants to vomit from the sappiness of it all.
"That's really sweet," he says. "I guess I can relate, with the whole 'seeing' someone. Like, sometimes someone's too close to focus on, and then they step away, and the whole picture makes sense. Only they step too far away."
"Not really what I meant," Blaine says.
"No, no. Because you were lucky. Some of us aren't that lucky. Or have really bad eyesight."
Yeah, Chad's a maudlin drunk. Blaine can deal with that. Kurt wonders if it's his boyfriend's fate to try and talk jocks through their sexual identity crises. He must have been a really slutty cheerleader in a previous life.
Kurt pushes himself upright again. Finn is between Jesse and Rachel, but he might as well not be there for the way Jesse's leaning across him. From the look on Rachel's face Jesse's oversharing some detail about him and Ryan to yet-again emphasise how over her he is. On Ryan's other side Sharpay is sitting in her boyfriend's lap, giving him a blow-by-blow account on the night's performance while Peyton mmhmms occasionally. Burt is at the bar – Kurt knows exactly how many drinks his dad has had and it's going to be wholewheat bagels and low-fat cheese tomorrow, no matter how much his dad objects – staring at a selection of international beers that stretches out of sight in both directions. He's probably going to be some time.
Kurt slides Blaine's hand another inch up his thigh. Blaine's voice stutters mid sentence, but Chad doesn't seem to notice.
"Sometimes it's when something goes away that you realise what it is," Chad is saying. "Like, it snaps into focus as soon as it's out of reach. You see?"
"No, I get that," Blaine says. "But that's not what happened with me and Kurt."
"I'm not talking about you and Kurt!"
And then Kurt glances across the table and sees Ryan. And it all falls into place.
Ryan looks away from Chad and meets Kurt's eyes, just briefly, and drops his gaze to the table. There's a flush of colour high on his pale cheeks that's visible even in the purplish lighting of the bar.
Kurt's seen enough people compose themselves in the wings to know what it looks like, that moment before they step on stage and put on their performance persona. Ryan's head snaps up. He angles his whole torso towards Jesse, his body language clear and precise. One arm loops around Jesse's shoulders in a protective-yet-possessive move and pulls him back, across Finn, away from Rachel, and settles Jesse against Ryan's chest.
Jesse doesn't know his part and looks confused before his instinct for improvisation kicks in. It's a long, slow kiss, and when they break apart Kurt is uncomfortably aware that he's a little turned on by it.
Ryan meets Kurt's eyes again, but the nervousness of earlier has been replaced by something steely.
He tells Blaine everything when they get back to the apartment – apart from how hot the kiss was, because he isn't sure how Blaine will think of him if he admits to finding Jesse St James hot in any kind of capacity, let alone Ryan – but Blaine surprises him with something he hadn't noticed.
"Sharpay was watching Jesse the whole time," he says. "I mean, she was talking about the show, but she was listening to every word Jesse said. She doesn't like him."
"I'm not even sure Ryan does," Kurt says. Really, they ought to be spending this time alone making out before his dad interrupts. But damn, this is better than a Dallas rerun. "I think he wants to, but he spent most of the time watching Chad."
"Who wouldn't shut up about realising he'd fallen in love with someone too late."
"Too late like that someone has a boyfriend now."
"Too late like that someone moved to New York."
"Too late like the time is right now." Burt's standing in the doorway. Kurt sighs, but he can't stop the smile tugging at his lips. He presses a kiss to Blaine's cheek.
"See you in the morning," he says.
"See you in my dreams," Blaine replies, which Kurt can't help but role his eyes at.
"I'll bet you will," says Burt, which pretty much kills the moment anyway, even if the mortification on Blaine's face is what he deserves for such a cheesy line. Blaine scurries past Burt, still blushing scarlet.
"That was cruel," Kurt tells his dad.
"Father's prerogative. It's past two, kiddo. Get to bed."
Rachel appears behind him in the doorway.
"I haven't even started moisturising yet," Kurt says.
"I'll put my sleep mask on," Rachel says, "and you can take one of the table lamps over to the vanity. The Tony shaped one has a directional beam."
Burt sighs, but he knows better than to fight with Kurt over this, and he leaves them to sort themselves out.
"Did you know Jesse is bi?" Kurt asks as he dabs cold cream onto his eyelids.
"I had an inkling," Rachel said. "I think I have a sense for these things, like with Blaine."
Kurt doesn't comment on that.
"Do you think he's really fallen for Ryan, or is it part of some new game plan?"
Rachel hmms as she thinks about it. "Neither," she says eventually. "I think he's rebounding and Ryan was there. If we weren't here they'd probably have split up by now, but it's really important to him that I think he's moved on. I feel sorry for him, really. This is going to happen to so many men in my lifetime, but being the first has got to hurt him. I just hope he channels it into his singing. He could be the male Adele, writing an entire album about me and becoming an international icon on the back of my fame."
Kurt would role his eyes, but he'd just get cream in them and he knows from experience that stings. He massages his t-zone with the tips of his fingers, rubbing his skin in tiny circles to stimulate blood flow.
"Besides," Rachel goes on, "if anyone's using anyone, Ryan's using Jesse. I mean, you saw they way he behaved tonight. It's obvious that jock Chad gave him a hard time in high school about being gay, and Ryan wants him to see that now he's out of Albuquerque he can date who he likes."
"If Chad bullied him in high school, why would Ryan invite him to New York?"
He wonders if he should bring Rachel in on his and Blaine's speculation, but as much as he loves her what he really wants right now is to watch her fall right on her metaphorical face. A 'sense for these things'? Who did she think she was kidding?
"To show him how successful he is now," Rachel says, like it's obvious. "I mean, on my opening night as Wendla in Spring Awakening I'm going to invite the entire Cheerio squad. Aren't you?"
There's a few people Kurt would like to rub his impending fame in the faces of, but it would just be tacky to say so. He rubs leave-in conditioner into his hair and slides a net over it, to save Rachel's pillows, and turns off the Tony lamp. The only light now is an orange strip under the door, just enough to find his way to the bed.
He climbs between the sheets and reaches for his own sleep mask on the night stand. The mattress shifts as Rachel moves a little further over, giving him space. Yesterday she accused him of being a flailer. Obviously even in his sleep he can't help but dance. Anyway, she snores.
"See you on the flip side," she replies.
Finn is obviously a bad influence on her.
Chapter 5: We danced all the same and it seemed to me we were dancing better than her
I'm really sorry for the long wait. I hope it's worth it (for the HSM fans, at least. There's a Glee-heavy chapter coming up to balance it out soon!)
Chad can't bring himself to get annoyed at Jesse's tendency to use towels and leave them all over the bathroom. He grabs the boxer-briefs he slept in – white cotton, worn thin, fabric parting from the elastic waistband at the back – and pulls them on wet. They promptly turn transparent. He squeezes the excess water from his hair and shakes it out, letting its wet weight pull it into loose ringlets across his shoulders. The Redhawk tattoo on his hip glistens.
He saunters into the main room of the apartment, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind him. Ryan and Jesse are sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. Jesse's peering at the ingredients on a box of cereal with a level of concentration Chad doubts something that claims to be nothing but wheat deserves. Ryan's sitting opposite him, perfectly placed to appreciate the view if he'd just look away from Jesse for a second.
"Hey," Chad says. "Are there any dry towels in this place?"
It's worth every torture Sharpay is going to threaten him with. It's even worth seeing the same slack-jawed expression on Jesse's face as Ryan's. Chad isn't going to settle for third wheel, but it's nice to know he could have both of them if he wanted to.
Ryan pulls his jaw off the counter first, but can't stop himself from wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue. Chad shifts, feeling the wet cotton of his shorts tug and shift as his cock moves between his legs. He doesn't have to look down to know they can see his penis as clearly as if he wasn't wearing anything at all, and he also knows that the fact he is wearing something make it a hundred times sexier. Ryan's fingers are white as he clings to the counter.
"Towels?" Chad prompts. "I'm dripping all over the parquet."
"It's not parquet," Ryan says. "It's Norwegian pine." He sounds like he's having trouble speaking.
Chad's view is obscured by something white and fluffy. He sighs and pulls the towel off his head. He hadn't noticed Jesse pulling himself together, but he obviously has.
"I told you I did a dryer run last night," Jesse says. "They were right by the door."
"What good are they there?" Chad says. He wraps the towel around his waist and shimmies out of his briefs. The noise Ryan makes is somewhere between a sigh and a growl. Chad can imagine him making it in bed, when Chad touched him right... there. Yeah.
He lets the towel settle a little lower on his hips before bending to pick up his underpants. He doesn't even try to bend from the waist – leave that to yoga boys like Ryan, and besides, there's such as thing as being too obvious – but he keeps his butt high even as he bends his knees.
"Thanks for the towel, dude," he says to Jesse. "See you guys in twenty."
Twenty because that's how long it takes to make his hair look good, if he's honest with himself. Twenty minutes, a lot of product, and a certain amount of hanging his head upside down off the bed (it's how he gets that awesome bounce).
He leaves his bedroom door open a crack. He's not above eavesdropping. Besides, it's also twenty minutes because it's one of those times people always quote when they're joking about having a quickie and he wants them both to know that he knows he's turned Ryan on.
"Jesse." Ryan's voice is low and needy. Chad's chest tightens. "I need... I'm sorry."
"It's like porn," Jesse says, sounding a little awed. Chad frowns. "It's like porn wandering around our apartment."
Ryan breathes something that attempts to be laughter. "I'm going to the bathroom," he says.
"No, don't. We can..."
"I can't, Jesse. I can't... while he's..."
"Even if I'm thinking of him too?"
"I meant," and there's steel in Ryan's voice now, "I can't while he's listening. He's trying to mess with us. I don't want to give him the satisfaction."
Chad hears footsteps and his door is pulled shut from the outside.
Okay, so he may have been a bit too obvious. He's going to have to google Manolo Blahniks now, before Ryan tells Sharpay and she makes good on her threat. He's picturing some kind of European nun-chuks, but that seems a bit too obvious.
Ryan settles himself against the breakfast bar, arms folded so tightly across his chest he can feel the tug on the shoulder seams. The ruin of a good shirt is another thing he can be angry at Chad about. Despite Jesse's best efforts, he's still tense as hell, his shoulders knotted to his spine and his ribs aching.
He's sent Jesse to meet the others at Julliard. They ran lines a couple of times before Jesse left, and Ryan's confident that Jesse can pull off the lie that Ryan had a hat emergency.
Kelsi's bedroom door creaks open. Chad sticks his head out, hair first, and glances back and forth a couple of times before his eyes lit on Ryan.
He's put a lot of effort into his appearance, Ryan notices, and is annoyed at himself for noticing. His hair is glossy and has some serious bounce going on, his size-too-small t-shirt reads "Some Like It Hot", his jeans look painted on and since when did Chad Danforth own sneaker boots? They draw attention to his calves, which draw attention to his thighs, which draw attention to...
Ryan snaps his attention back to Chad's face. It's much easier to be mad at Chad's face than the rest of him.
"You're not coming to Julliard," Ryan tells him.
"But. I was looking forward to it." Chad sounds genuinely crestfallen.
"You're packing," Ryan says.
"I went too far," Chad says. He shoves his hands in the back pockets of his jeans, though how there's space for them Ryan can't imagine, and shifts awkwardly from foot to foot. "I'm sorry."
"Too far? You went to China and back! I know what you're trying to do, Danforth. I've watched you do it before!" He tightens his arms to stop himself from flailing at Chad. Sharpay says it undermines his point when he gets going, and he's not going to give Chad anything to work with here.
"What, take a shower?"
Ryan grits his teeth. He'd really hoped Chad wouldn't be like this.
"Try and break a couple up," he says. "I guess I thought you'd grown out of that since Troy and Gabriella. I guess I thought we were good enough friends that you wouldn't pull that bullshit on me."
Chad laughs at that. Ryan wants to punch that smile off his face more than he's wanted anything in his life. How fucking dare he.
"Why do you think I'd want you and Jesse to break up?" Chad asks. His voice is pitched low and a little flirty. It's not fair. It tugs on Ryan's gut and he's meant to be over this. He left it behind in high school, in New Mexico, and it's not fair that it's followed him all the way to New York. Even if he did invite it here.
His breath hitches in his chest and Ryan realises there's a sob bubbling in there. He shoves it back down desperately, but that makes his eyes burn. It's not fair.
"Because," he says, breathing through it, keeping his voice steady and his body still, "you can't deal with people paying attention to anyone who isn't you. You're clingy and possessive and you don't give a shit about how I feel as long as I'm following you around like a puppy, boosting your ego."
Chad's eyes widen. He's scored a hit. He's not sure when or how, but it's a hit, a palpable hit, and he can't stop now.
"Yes, sure, I had a crush on you in high school. You were hot, and popular, and nice to me. Maybe I was imagining the chemistry, maybe I was just feeding your self-image, but I thought that despite that we were genuinely friends. I thought you actually liked me for me.
"Instead I invite you here, I ask you to meet my boyfriend – my first serious boyfriend – and you start pulling shit like this. And I have to ask myself what our friendship actually was. Tell me, Chad. Were we friends? Or did you keep me around to make yourself feel good?"
Oh god, it's been two years and it's still terrifying to say it aloud. He has- had, had feelings for Chad Danforth. He can't crush the part of him that imagines Chad turning around and announcing that he feels the same way too, that he's gay but never knew it until he met Ryan. But he's throwing it at Chad instead, and that other line of thought, the one where Chad freaks out and never talks to him again, is desperate for justification. Chad has to be disgusted. Chad has to be angry. Chad has to Go. Away.
Chad's standing in front of him. Ryan doesn't remember him moving, but now he's in touching distance. Sweat trickles down Ryan's spine. His fingers are digging so tight into his arms the tips are tingling.
"We're friends," Chad says, but it sounds uncertain. "Ryan, please. I never wanted you to think we aren't friends. But." He swallows. Ryan watches his adam's apple bob under his tanned skin.
Chad puts his hands on Ryan's arms. He's already pressed against the breakfast bar; there's nowhere to go. He leans back as far as he can, but Chad doesn't get the message.
"Ryan," Chad says, "I know I've been tactless and thoughtless and really, really stupid. And I completely understand if you hate me. But."
He falters again. Ryan wants to shake him. He can feel that sob again lurking just below his throat. He wants to make it all stop. He wants things to go back to the way they were. He wants to be over Chad Danforth so, so badly, to leave him behind and get on with his life and he can't because he invited Chad here to prove to himself he was over him and he isn't and he's fucked up his relationship and his friendship and he's going to spend his whole life tagging around behind Sharpay and Peyton and having one night stands with guys that just happen to have dark skin and short ringlets and
"I want to be more than friends," Chad says.
A noise escapes Ryan's lips that he doesn't recognise as human. It's the noise kittens make when they're small and blind and can't find their mother. It's desperate. It's needy. It hurts his throat.
He can't speak.
"Ryan, I know I'm two years too late. I only started figuring this out last year, and all I could think was how I was too late, how you'd already left. I just wasted too much time, and I'm sorry, because we could have had something incredible and I was too stupid to see it."
Chad's voice breaks on 'stupid'. His hands slip from Ryan's arms, the skin where they were cold and tingling.
"I have a boyfriend," Ryan says. It doesn't even sound like his voice. "You can't tell me you feel the same way now. I have a boyfriend."
"I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said-" Chad pauses. Ryan realises he's rallying. "No. I had to tell you," he says. "I can't keep piling regrets on top of regrets. I want you to break up with Jesse and be my boyfriend. I don't even know how that would work, with you here and me in Albuquerque, but that's what I want. And if you don't want it, well. I guess I'll go home and lick my wounds, and maybe we can be friends again, after a while."
"I have a boyfriend," Ryan says again. It takes effort, but he brings Jesse's face to mind. Pretty Jesse. Straight-forward Jesse. Easy Jesse. Jesse doesn't make his chest hurt, doesn't plant sobs deep in his throat, doesn't make him dizzy with anger and want.
Jesse doesn't make Ryan jealous or insecure, even when he's obviously flirting with his ex. Ryan saw the looks they got last night. He knows he ought to care. But that's the great thing about being with Jesse. Neither of them care. That's what makes it so easy.
"Break up with him," Chad says.
"Break up with him."
"Okay," Ryan says.
Chapter 6: I smoked four cigarettes that night, and five the next day, and six the next night
Sorry for the delay in posting this, and thanks for being so patient. I've had it a while, but when AO3 updated the rich text function was weird for a while and I couldn't be arsed to html it :) This is the last chapter I've currently got written, so it'll probably be an even longer wait for the next while I work on some original stuff (super-speedy pimp - if you like my writing, and m/m, maybe consider buying my book - http://www.loose-id.com/Tease.aspx - to keep you busy while waiting for me to update again?). And also go on holiday and move house.
Jesse meets Sharpay's eyes. She pulls out her phone before he can say anything.
"Ryan's running a little behind," he tells the rest of the group. "He'll join us soon."
"How come he's running late?" Burt asks. Jesse was expecting the line to come from Sharpay, who's turned her back on him to make a phone call, but he can work with this too.
"There was a draft as we got off the subway and his hat just sailed away. One of the Cha Cha's – he was distraught – so I told him to go and buy himself another while I came to meet you here." He's only expanded a little on Ryan's suggested lines. He thinks the detail really brings it home.
Sharpay snaps her phone shut. "Kelsi will meet us," she says.
Kelsi, Kelsi... Ryan's roommate.
"Isn't she upstate?" Jesse asks.
"She just got back. You can carry her bags while we look around."
Sharpay's lips are pressed together in a thin, pink line. She's angry, but Jesse gets the impression it's not directed at him.
"What about Chad?" Burt again.
"He's. Um." Packing. But he can't tell them that, not right now. "Not feeling great."
Oh god, he hopes Chad's packing. Because he wasn't entirely comfortable leaving Ryan alone for that conversation. It's becoming increasingly apparent to Jesse their relationship has run its course, and Chad can be very... persuasive? No, that other thing. Naked. Chad can be very naked. And Jesse couldn't blame a soul for failing to resist that.
But he really doesn't want to be dumped while Rachel's here.
Jesse is trying to hold a conversation with Finn – he's not sure what about, but it's probably some kind of sport – when his attention is caught by a hat. It's too low down for Ryan, and it's obscured almost immediately by a crown of passing students. When it reappears it's attached to a girl wearing short overalls and a grandpa cardigan. She's towing a suitcase almost as big as herself and she looks pissed.
It's a good look on her.
"Just so we're clear," she says. "I'm doing this as a favour to Ryan, not you, Sharpay."
"You're doing this as a favour to your career," Sharpay says. "Talk Kurt into Julliard and you'll have a countertenor to write for next year. A countertenor in a depressingly saccharine relationship who's just desperate to have yawn-inducing duets written for him and his boyfriend."
Kurt looks like he wants to object, but his boytoy's eyes light up.
"You write?" Boytoy asks. "What sort of music?"
"Yawn-inducing duets," Kelsi says. "Or, as we call them in the business, romantic ballads."
Her voice is dry as graham crackers. It's cuts through everything weighing on Jesse's mind and he feels himself smiling.
"Do you have someone special you write them for?" Jesse asks. He puts on his best smile and reaches past her for her suitcase. She doesn't let go at first, her fingers tight on the handle, and he wraps his hand around hers. Something shifts in her gaze.
"You're Ryan's boyfriend," she says flatly.
"Jesse St James. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." He turns the charm up another notch, even though it's blatantly obvious its not working. It's never not worked before. And he really needs her to like him, so she can talk Ryan into not dumping him.
"Where is Ryan?" Kelsi asks. She lets go of her case and pulls her hand away, tucking it in her pocket.
"Hat emergency," he says. "I'm sure you know."
She raises an eyebrow. "And Chad?"
Jesse tries to remember what he'd said earlier. "Not feeling well. You know him too?"
"From high school."
They're standing close. He's not the tallest guy in the world, but he towers over her.
"Can we get this show on the road?" Sharpay says from behind them. "I have places to be."
Kelsi steps back and away from Jesse.
"You don't have to come with us," she says. "I know Ryan's shown you around more than once."
"I cleared my schedule for this," Sharpay says. "But then, I thought I'd be spending the day with my brother."
"Ryan's still coming, right?" Finn speaks, catching Jesse by surprise. He'd forgotten he has half of New Directions watching him.
It's increasingly obvious to everyone that Ryan isn't coming.
Rachel catches Finn's hand as he opens his mouth to ask again. Jesse shoots her a grateful look. Well, he means it to be grateful. He hasn't had a lot of practice and from the way she frowns at him he figures he must be a little off.
Kelsi leads the group around the Julliard campus. Where Peyton was verbose Kelsi is economical, where he was eloquent she is witty, but it's obvious she loves her school as much as he loves his.
In one of the practice rooms she runs her fingers across the piano keyboard as she talks about the classical programme. Gradually the notes she picks out become more coherent. Sharpay snorts.
"That song still sends me to sleep," she says. "What happened to the version I had you pep up?"
Kelsi shudders. "I dropped it in the pool," she says. "Whoops."
"What pool?" Finn asks, looking around like there might be one somewhere in the practice room.
"At Lava Springs," Kelsi says. "The Evans' country club."
"Mummy was very disappointed when you didn't play for us this summer," Sharpay says. "I don't know what you learnt at that compser's camp that I couldn't have told you to do."
Kelsi leans in towards Jesse and says in a stage whisper, "I was in hiding. There was no Composer's Camp."
He snorts. It's undignified, but he doesn't care. Even though Rachel is watching.
"You never answered my question about who you write for," Jesse reminds her later, as they separate from the others to head back to Ryan's apartment. He's still towing Kelsi's case along.
"I write for my friends," Kelsi says. "Maybe I'll write a duet for you and Ryan some time." Her voice is light, but careful.
The lights in the apartment are still on. They can see silhouettes moving around near the window; joining, parting. Joining.
"You do break up songs?" Jesse asks.
She doesn't answer that. She puts her hand over his again, on the suitcase handle, keeping it there all through the elevator ride, until they reach Ryan's floor. When she takes the case away from him he almost grabs it back. His hand is cold without hers.
No one's heard from Ryan all day, not even Sharpay. He watches Kelsi turn her key in the lock, no idea what's going to greet him on the other side of the door.
Burt tugs awkwardly on his tie. Both boys are dressed to the nines, but that means nothing. Kurt's so happy to see him in a tie – a father's day present that's lived in a drawer for over a decade – that when Burt asks if he's overdressed Kurt can't answer. He just hugs his dad, eyes shining.
On the one hand the restaurant is a relief – he's definitely not overdressed – but on the other hand it's going to have French menus and seven courses and thirteen forks, and Burt's going to make a fool of himself. His high school French never went beyond je voudrais un pamplemousse and ou est l'hopital. It definitely didn't extend to... whatever the hell that was. Probably snails. A place like this would serve snails.
He wondered if there was a subtle way of getting Kurt to order for him. Sure, it'd probably be tasteless and boring, but at least he wouldn't accidentally ask for the service charge with a side salad.
He glances away from the menu (no prices, he notices, because if you have to ask you can't afford it) and sees a man he knows must be Mr Anderson approaching. He's only a little taller than his son, though his complexion is slightly fairer. The temperature is more late summer than early fall but he's wearing a wool coat that probably costs more than Burt's entire suit.
He knows Kurt's met Mr Anderson a couple of times, but he's always been a bit vague about the guy. He doesn't know if Blaine's told Kurt what he did Burt, about his dad trying to straighten him out with the car project. He doesn't look like the kind of guy who liked to get his hands dirty. Even if Blaine hadn't shared that little anecdote Burt suspects he'd have disliked the guy on sight.
They shake hands before either of them speaks.
"Mr Anderson. It's nice to finally meet you."
"Likewise. Shall we go in?"
If he was expecting a 'call me Dave' moment he realises know he isn't going to get it. He has no idea what Mr Anderson's christian name is and he doubts he'll be any the wiser by the time the coffee comes round.
He smirks. Like Kurt will let him order coffee.
"How are you finding New York?" Mr Anderson asks. "Have you been before?"
"No, this is the first time. I'm enjoying myself, though we haven't had much time for sight-seeing so far."
It's too big and he's been on public transport more times in the last week than he has in the rest of his life and everyone sneers at him like some kind of hick and Mr Anderson is the first person he's spoken to who's over twenty-five. He's knows there are other adults in the city; he's seen them. It's just every time he goes to speak to someone they're replaced by another teenager.
"Not even Times Square? Blaine always loved Times Square; I'm surprised he hasn't dragged your whole party there."
Burt has no idea if they've been to Times Square, but the eye-roll Kurt is giving him suggests they did.
"How was your flight?" Burt asks.
"Good, though there was a little turbulence just before we landed that left me wearing my gin and tonic."
"Are you working much of the time you're here?"
"Most of it."
"Pity. You must miss the opportunity to spend time with your son."
"Of course. You're lucky to have so much time with yours."
Burt can think of three other topics for Small Talk (as opposed to Big Talk): the boys' college plans, the weather, and the food. They could rip through them all in the next five minutes, or ration them out of the course of the meal. Well, food would have to wait until after they ordered, but at least it was a topic they could revisit each course.
The waiter brings bottled water and some weird tiny pastry things with pale green goop on them. Hors d'oerves? No, that other French thing Kurt makes sometimes before dinner.
"Amuse bouche!" Kurt claps his hands in delight. Mr Anderson flinches, his eyes flicking around the room. When they hit Burt something in them changes. Burt knows he's glowering. He can't help it: seeing a jumped up little rich boy throw his guard up takes him right back to the best bits of high school. He smirks as Mr Anderson looks away.
There's a sharp pain in his shin. Kurt's wearing the really pointy boots. They're French. Burt knows this thanks to the forty minute conversation Kurt and Blaine had about precisely which French boots Kurt should wear.
The tiny pastries are nice. Burt almost says something about wishing there were more of them, but Kurt would never forgive him. The things parents do for their kids. Annie, do you see me now? Do you see what I'm doing for our son? You'd be mocking this man to his face. He considers excusing himself to text Carole; she'd be right there with him too.
In a perfect world Annie and Carole would have met. Burt's not sure how that would have worked out with the whole marriage thing, but he's sure some sort of compromise could have been made.
The waiter was standing behind Kurt's shoulder. Shit.
Burt sighs. "Let's do this the easy way," he says. "I don't want you glowering at me for ordering something not on your diet plan."
"Diet plan?" Mr Anderson asks.
"I had a heart attack last year. Kurt's very keen to make sure I'm around to pay his entire college tuition. This way I get to have fullfat cream cheese on my bagel tomorrow."
Kurt rolled his eyes. "You can have dessert, dad. You can't have fullfat cheese tomorrow. And I want you around to see my broadway debut. My income from acting will pay my tuition." He smiles. "And you'll have the ratatouille to start, and the pousson in thyme and lemon for your main."
Burt thought one of those might be fish. Probably.
Mr Anderson smiles. It's tightlipped, but it looks genuine to Burt. "I'll have the same," he says. "And it's worth sacrificing tomorrow's bagel for the desserts here. They have a new pastry chef who does amazing things with choux."
"Kurt takes good care of me," Burt says, realising seconds too late he's opened a Big Talk topic: the boys.
It seems like Mr Anderson isn't ready for this conversation yet, but the boys have other ideas.
"Kurt cooks a lot," Blaine said, eyes on his dad and hand on Kurt's. On top of the table. Mr Anderson pointedly doesn't look at that. "He always did, even before Burt's heart attack. They're really close."
"What?" Burt frowns.
"No, I mean..." Mr Anderson sighs. "Blaine was being disrespectful."
Burt snorts. "I've told him to call me 'Burt' more times than I can count. He still calls me 'Sir' more often than not." He shakes his head. "I know it's not how you were brought up – or me, to be honest - and I hope Kurt has the manners to call you by whatever name you prefer, but I'm more comfortable with Blaine calling me Burt."
"Kurt has been nothing by civil," Mr Anderson says stiffly. Burt gets the impression he'd prefer it if Kurt had been rude so he could justify his dislike of the boys' relationship.
Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand, above the table, and deliberately moves his hand away. Blaine's eyes go wide. Even Burt wants to reassure the kid. How can Mr Anderson stand it?
"Harper," Mr Anderson says. "It would be a privilege if Kurt called me Harper."
Burt assumes that's extended to him too.
He is never so glad to see food as when the starter arrives. It's barely larger than the amuse bouche, just a slim cylinder of sliced vegetables, tomato juice artistically swirled around it. There's a thicker comma of some other sauce.
Burt grits his teeth. He doesn't eat it in one mouthful, though he could have. It still only takes three, and Kurt gives him a disapproving look.
"It's delicious," Burt says. "I, um. I like the roast garlic."
Kurt's face clears, so Burt knows he got that right.
"The tomatoes are imported from Italy," Harper Anderson says.
"Blaine took me to Breadstix for our second date," Kurt says. "I don't think there's a single thing on that menu that's Italian, but their ketchup is Korean."
"Your second date?" Harper asks. "That was..." Burt wonders what he's fishing for.
"Six months ago," Kurt says. "Nearly."
"Our six month anniversary is just after we get back to Ohio," Blaine says.
Burt snorts. "It took Kurt weeks to work up the nerve to say anything, as though it wasn't completely obvious after that duet. When did they tell you?" he asks Harper.
"I missed Regionals," Harper says. "Work. I wish I'd been there."
"I wish you'd been there too," Blaine says. There's no bite in it.
"Next year," Harper says. "Work should be... quieter. I'll make it to your competitions next year."
"Last chance before we graduate," Kurt says. There is bite in it. Burt sighs. The waiter whisks the plates away, keeping Kurt from pushing any further. Kurt is a born meddler, but he's not always as subtle about it as he thinks he is. It turns out both Harper and Blaine share the same clenched jaw when stressed.
"How often do you come to New York?" Burt asks Harper.
"Around once a month," Harper says, "though I've had a couple of deals fall through recently due to the recession. The Evans - I believe you've met their children - are looking for some property in the city, which I think I'll be able to help them with."
"Really?" Blaine looks up from the space where his plate had been. "Another country club?"
"Hotel and health club," Harper says. "They want somewhere to entertain their clients here." He pauses for a moment, and something flickers across his face that Burt recognises from every time he tried to interest Kurt in football. "Would you like to see the plans I'm using for the pitch?"
Blaine nods, a tiny movement of his head. "Sure."
"You're an architect?" Burt asks.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Kurt cock his head to one side; curiosity is winning over hostility.
"I used to be," Harper says dryly. "Now I employ other people to do what I love while I go to meetings and pitches."
"It seems that's true of almost any profession," Burt says. "I thought owning my own garage would let me do the work I love, but it seems like it's all paperwork."
Harper nods. "Your reward for doing something you love well is having it taken away from you and replaced with bureaucracy."
"I'd be interested in seeing the plan too," Kurt says quietly.
"Really?" Harper's surprised.
A small smile graces Kurt's face. "Yeah. I've always been interested in design."
"When Carole and I moved in together we basically gave him free reign over the new house," Burt adds.
Kurt wrinkles his nose. "Finn wanted to paint his room black, dad. With a silver ceiling. Someone had to stop him."
Harper raises an eyebrow.
"He'd just broken up with his girlfriend. One of them." Burt grimaces. "To be honest, that boy switches back and forth so often I've given up trying to keep track." Maybe it's time to risk that Big Talk topic again. "Kurt and Blaine are refreshingly stable."
"Yes. It's a... relief." Harper picks up his fork and spins it between thumb and finger a couple of times. He glances down, realises what he's doing, and uses his napkin to polish his fingerprints away. "Some of Blaine's other... infatuations... were less so."
Blaine blushes dark red. Kurt purses his lips, and Burt wonders how much he knows about Blaine's love life before they met.
"I'm more than just an infatuation, Mr Anderson," Kurt says. He puts his hand on Blaine's again, on top of the table. "Blaine is The One."
Blaine is still blushing so hard Burt's a little worried for his blood pressure, but he nod furiously. "So's Kurt," he says.
The main course arrives before Harper can say anything. It's not fish, which pleases Burt, though he thinks the size of the bird is a little stingy. Surely a place like this can afford adult chickens.
Burt points at it with his fork. "You did something like this the other day," he says to Kurt.
"I wish ," says Kurt. "Maybe if there was somewhere in our cow town that sold pousson I'd have a change of getting it half as tender." He glances at Blaine. "When we're living here we'll eat like this every night," he says.
"When you're living here?" Harper asks.
"I'll be at Julliard with Rachel, Blaine at NYU," Kurt says. "We were thinking dorms for the first year, just for the experience, and finding an apartment together after that."
"Right." Harper sounds a little shellshocked.
"Kurt's been planning this since he was five years old," Burt says. "Blaine is a recent addition, but apparently he's pretty integral now."
"What about Chicago?" Harper asks his son.
Blaine shrugs awkwardly. "I'll apply, of course, but I'd really prefer New York."
"But." Harper waves his fork around, thyme garnish splattering the tablecloth with drops of lemon juice. "Your mother's Alma Mater," he says.
"I know," Blaine says. "But this is what I want."
"You're too young to know what you want. This is what Kurt wants."
"Kurt's younger than Blaine," Burt says. Kurt smiles at him, but he's ignored by both Andersons, which he's grateful for.
"Try the crushed new potatoes," Kurt says quietly, unloading a forkful onto Burt's plate.
"Well, what I want is Kurt." Blaine's tone is hot. His fingers are clenched tightly around his fork. It's better than his knife, Burt figures. "I want Kurt, and I want New York. You know what me and Kurt can do in New York? We can get married. That's what you and mom always worried about, isn't it? If I'm gay, I can't get married and have kids and have a normal life. Well, welcome to New York."
"That's not normal," Harper snaps. "You can't throw your life away over this, Blaine. You're going to Chicago."
"Or I won't pay for it."
Blaine starts to rise, but Kurt puts a hand on his arm and yanks him back into his seat.
"NYU has a scholarship program," he says. "There are grants you can apply for. We can work over the summer."
Blaine looks at him. Kurt smiles.
"Between dad's medical bills and my Dalton fees I had to prepare to pay my own way," Kurt says. "I have spreadsheets I can show you." He pauses. "Of course, I don't want to cause a rift in your family. I don't want you to feel obliged to come to New York with me."
"I don't feel obliged," Blaine says.
"I didn't think you did," Kurt says, "but I wanted to make sure you did."
"I just listed getting married as a reason to be here," Blaine says. "How do you think I feel?"
The waiter appears again, but Burt waves him away. He's fairly certain he's just seen his son proposed to. He's not sure it's dawned on Kurt yet. It's definitely dawned on Harper, though. Maybe he shouldn't have waved the waiter away; the man looks like he could do with a whisky or two.
"We'll discuss this when we get home," Harper says in a strangled voice. "If you can convince me NYU is the best place for you, we'll consider it."
Blaine wrenches his adoring gaze from Kurt. "There's Columbia too," he says. "But I thought you'd want me to go to NYU. You always talk about how much you loved it there."
"I did. I do. I just... You weren't interested until you met Kurt. It was always Chicago before that."
The waiter's back. Burt gives up trying to extract the last shreds of meat from his tiny chicken and lets him clear the plate. Both Harper and Blaine have barely touched theirs. Kurt's plate is meticulously cleaned.
"I only wanted to go to Chicago to make mom happy. If that's the criteria then NYU wins anyway, because make you and Kurt happy."
Dessert menus materialise.
"College isn't about making people happy. It's about preparing yourself for your future."
Burt leans in to Kurt. "I'm going to order this man some whisky."
"Yes," Kurt whispers back. "Lots. Also, I thought we'd get the profiterole stack to share between the four of us."
"Sounds good. Coffee?"
"My future is with Kurt," Blaine says.
"A boy you've been dating for six months, and only told me about two weeks ago. You're seventeen, Blaine. This is puppy love."
"It is not!" Blaine's loud enough that other people in the restaurant turn to look. "This is real, dad," he says more quietly.
"You're in high school, Blaine, and you're talking about marrying him. That's not the hallmark of a mature relationship. That's blind infatuation."
"You're talking about marrying me," Kurt says. The colour is draining from his face as he speaks. "You're... Blaine, did you propose and I missed it?"
Blaine's eyes widen. "No? I mean... Maybe?"
"Maybe?" Kurt's voice shoots up an octave. "Did you 'maybe' propose to me, in front of our fathers, and I didn't even notice? Is that what maybe happened?"
"No. No, I just... declared my intent. Um. To marry you. One day. You'll know when I'm proposing, because there'll be flowers, and starlight, and a ring. Definitely a ring. And I'll actually ask you, rather than talking about it like a given fact."
Kurt's colour starts to return. "Yes, you will. You'll ask my dad for mom's engagement ring, and you'll go down on one knee, and you will not do it in a French restaurant with various members of our family present."
Burt smirks. When Blaine comes for the ring he'll give him Kurt's wedding book. Admittedly, Kurt's probably grown out of the Disney-themed proposal he wanted when he was eight, but it'll give the kid somewhere to start.
"And you won't sing," Kurt adds after a moment's thought. "You'd probably pick something highly inappropriate, like 'Best Thing I Never Had'."
Burt looks up to see Harper's eyes on him. Of course he agrees this is too young, too soon, and too fast, but frankly he'd rather Kurt married Blaine than any other boy Burt's knows their age. Not that he's going to tell Blaine that. A father has a right to make his future son-in-law sweat.
"And you won't do it for some years to come," Burt says. "Right?"
"Right!" Blaine agrees quickly. "After college."
Kurt nods. "Yes, after college sounds reasonable." He smiles and Blaine and takes his hand again. "But I do like that we can take it as fact."
"It's good to know you'll say yes," Blaine says.
The profiteroles arrive, followed immediately by the whisky. Harper stares at the golden liquid in confusion.
"You look like you need it," Burt tells him.
"Why don't you?" Harper asks.
"I've been living with Kurt for seventeen years, and with this-" he waves a finger at both boys, who are feeding each other profiteroles "-for six months. And tonight I'm going to be living with an overfed, sugared up seventeen year old who I'm going to have to talk out of booking wedding venues again."
"When he was six he called a hotel in Barbados and made reservations for over a hundred people, including a seafood buffet and live band. Luckily he still struggled with long numbers, or the first we'd have known about it was the deposit on the credit card bill."
"He's really got this all planned out, hasn't he?" Harper asks. "Blaine was never like that."
"No, and that's a good thing. Kurt needs someone to shake him up from time to time."
"Blaine needs someone to reign him in," Harper says. "You... You know this isn't about Kurt, right? Kurt is a wonderful young man, and I couldn't imagine someone better for Blaine. I just..."
"It's about Blaine," Burt says. "I understand."
But Harper's trailed off and he's staring intensely at his drink.
"I can't imagine someone better for Blaine," he says again.
Burt flags the waiter down and orders another whisky.
"Why don't we send the boys back the to apartment," he says, "and find ourselves a good bar?"
"That sounds like a very good idea."