When he and Rachel stumbled out of the doors of the Gershwin and back onto the bright, busy New York sidewalk, Kurt somehow managed to resist the urge to dance along the pavement or clutch her hands so tightly it would make her bones creak. He didn’t quite know how, but he managed not to give in.
He felt like he was going to burst with emotion - joy, amazement, fierce determination. His chest ached with the effort of containing it. They’d just sung on the Wicked stage. He had just sung on the Wicked stage, it had been magical and right, and it was not going to be the last time he did it. He knew it. It couldn’t be. He was going to make sure of it. Nothing was going to be in his way but the fact that he was a teenager in high school, and solving that problem was simply a matter of time. And then he was going to do everything. Everything.
He’d just experienced one glorious dream, and instead of taking the edge off of his ambition it had only fueled the rest of them still waiting. He was ready.
The conflicting scents of coffee, car exhaust, and something acrid Kurt didn’t really want to identify drifted in the air. A cab pulled to a halt across two lanes to pick up a passenger, setting off a cacophony of horns and shouts that was the antithesis of the music they’d just created. A well-dressed man walking along the sidewalk nearly pushed Rachel off the curb into traffic as he passed them in a hurry.
Rachel turned to Kurt, grabbing at his hands. “Kurt!” she said, her eyes wide with wonder.
“I know,” he replied with feeling. The moment was perfect.
“Kurt, we’re in New York!”
“We’re coming back.” She sounded awed and thrilled all at the same time, and he knew exactly how she felt, like it was too big to be true and yet too important to be anything but.
“I know,” he said, smiling when her eyes started to sparkle with tears; his own were right there barely held back and threatening to flow. He squeezed her hands and looked out over her head at the busy street. The busy, dirty, chaotic, foul-smelling, perfect New York street. “We are.”
They smiled at each other for a moment with an open honesty they couldn’t always share, and then she tugged at his hand and started off down the sidewalk. “Come on. We’ll have to get back to the hotel soon, and there’s so much more to see!”
Walking along, they gawked at theatre signs and billboards, more discreetly marked stage doors they hoped one day to pass through, and the general bustle of the city in the morning. Everybody seemed to be on a phone or holding a cup of coffee - or both - and though that was a common enough sight in Lima, too, it felt incredibly sophisticated when accompanied by the chatter of loud New York accents and a dozen different languages Kurt couldn’t identify.
“I can’t believe someday we’re going to be so used to this we won’t even notice any of it,” Rachel said to him, and he could only nod and grin in anticipation at the thought. “Wait - “ She turned around, frowning. “Was that woman’s dog pink? That is not right.”
“This from the girl who wears hideous animal sweaters in a variety of bright colors.”
“Not in New York. Look.” She twirled, her skirt and capelet flaring, and said, “Today I’m Audrey Hepburn.”
Kurt didn’t reply as he took her arm again and led her down the street; if there was one thing he was growing only more certain of it was that in New York he was going to be Kurt Hummel and nobody else, even more than he already was. There would be nothing to stop him.
Much to his delight, there were often a variety of little tables set up on the sidewalk near busy corners, and he wandered over to look at the wares displayed on one while he and Rachel waited for the light to change so they could cross the street. This particular table held watches, necklaces, bracelets, and pins of various sorts. Kurt let his practiced eye drift over them. He didn’t particularly need anything so generic as the watches or pendants, but he would never pass by an opportunity for fashion.
One of the bracelets caught his attention; it was a deceptively simple silver knot link, but there was something about the proportions that was particularly appealing. He leaned over to rub it between his thumb and forefinger to see if the chain had enough weight to it to be used as an embellishment to a vest or pin of his own creation, but a firm tug on his arm had him retreating a step back toward Rachel.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
Kurt nodded his head pointedly at the table. “Shopping?”
Rachel pulled him another step away; her grip was surprisingly firm. “Kurt, you can’t buy something from a vendor on the streets of New York! It’s probably a knock-off. Or stolen!”
“Rachel, it’s from a vendor on the streets of New York; it’s probably both.”
“But - “
“We had coffee and bagels at Tiffany’s this morning, and we sang at the Gershwin. I am now making my perfect New York experience complete by doing a little shopping. It will take all of two minutes.”
Rachel narrowed her eyes at him but nodded and let him go; he wasn’t surprised that she could understand the importance of hitting key New York milestones, even if all of them weren’t hers. “Okay, but if it turns your skin green I’m going to say ‘I told you so’.”
“If it turns my skin green I’m going back to the Gershwin and singing ‘Defying Gravity’.”
“Not without me!”
Rubbing his arm, Kurt went back to the table. Upon closer inspection, the bracelet felt cheap, and not in a good way, so he moved onto the pins in their jumble on a black velvet-lined box lid. Most of them were mundane at best, but there was a vintage or vintage-inspired silver-colored (he wasn’t so foolish as to assume it was actually sterling) airplane brooch that caught his eye. He picked it up and was surprised by how it felt in his hands, sturdy and smooth. It was surprisingly heavy. He knew with the instincts honed from shopping for rare bits of actual fashion in the backwater of Lima that it was the best piece on the whole table.
“Twenty bucks,” the vendor told him, squinting into the distance down the block.
“Twenty?” Kurt mentally considered the contents of his wallet. He only had so much spending money, and he had a somewhat similar pin at home. He knew he might not get another chance to shop in New York while they were here, but, on the other hand, twenty dollars could go a long way in the consignment shops in Ohio. And he still had to buy a gift for Blaine.
The guy and one of the people crowding around who Kurt had thought was a customer began sweeping the contents of the table into the duffel bag that had been tucked underneath it. “Fine, buddy. Ten. But you got to decide right now.”
“Kurt, we have to get back to the hotel,” Rachel said. “Tina just texted to say they’re getting ready to work on our songs. They’re going to notice if we aren’t there.”
Kurt looked back at the pin in his hand, thought about what it would feel like to put it down and walk away without it, without anything, and made his decision. He was only going to be in New York for the first time once. “I’ll take it.” He pulled out his wallet and handed the man two fives.
The vendor didn’t even thank him before he and his friend folded up the table and disappeared into the crowd. Kurt slipped the pin in his pocket as Rachel hurried him across the crosswalk.
“Did you see how quickly they ran when that policeman came down the sidewalk?” she said. “You’d better not get arrested for buying stolen merchandise! We need you for Nationals!”
“I’m not going to be arrested,” he said, though the thought made his heart pound and lodge in his throat. He looked behind them and was unable to spot the officer, but he still didn’t make her slow down until halfway down the next block. Then with some sadness and only one quick check of Rachel’s pocket map they turned toward the hotel.
“This has been the best morning,” Rachel told him, clutching at his arm. “Do you think we should write a song about it?”
“About bagels, breaking into the theater, and buying jewelry off the street? Do you think anyone else would understand?”
Her shoulders fell, but she kept her chin up. “You’re probably right. We’ll come up with something else.”
As they walked, Kurt slid his hand into his pocket and fingered his new purchase. He smiled to himself as he traced its outline. He’d made the right decision to buy it. Knock-off, stolen, or just cheap metal that would turn his skin odd colors, this airplane pin was a perfect memento to remind him of New York, of finally being there and of having plans to return.
Because there was no way he wasn’t coming back. He was coming back. With Blaine, with Rachel. For good.
Kurt was surprised at how quiet the house was when he got home from his late lunch out with Mercedes and Tina; his dad and Finn were working at the shop, but Carole’s car was in the garage. She was off from work. And yet there was no music playing while she worked in the kitchen, no sound of laughter while she chatted on the phone to a friend, and no whir of the vacuum or washing machine.
He walked softly up the stairs in case she was napping, but the door to the master bedroom was wide open, the curtains drawn back to let in the bright summer sun. The door to the master bath was also open, so she clearly wasn’t in there taking a quiet bubble bath, if she’d even want one in the steamy weather. Puzzled, he set down his bag in his room and went to look for her.
Her purse and keys were on their usual table by the back door, so he knew she had to be home, but another quick spin through the house didn’t reveal her presence. One of the sensational woman-abducted-from-her-home-in-broad-daylight stories from that stupid cop show Finn was watching the other night flashed through his head, and Kurt rolled his eyes at himself and put his hand on his hip as he thought. Had she gone for a walk? It was muggy out but better than it had been the past few days, though she wouldn’t have left her keys and phone, would she? Unlike Blaine, she hadn’t shown any interest in the hammock his dad and Finn had set up out back, but Kurt glanced out the kitchen window to check, anyway. The hammock was empty, but a flash of movement at the side of the yard caught Kurt’s eye.
Oh. Kurt’s vague worries faded as if he’d never had them. She was outside working on her very sweet but pitiful vegetable garden; he could see her kneeling as she dug up plants and dropped them in the bucket beside her. He hoped she wasn’t pulling up the cilantro again, thinking it was a weed. He planned to make pad thai for dinner the next night, and he didn’t want to have to go back to the store.
As he watched she sat back on her heels, pulled off her hat, and wiped her forehead with her forearm. She was clearly hot out there in the sun, and after a second Kurt ran up to fetch his sunglasses before pouring a big glass of lemonade from the pitcher he’d made the day before, wetting a tea towel in the sink, and letting himself out the back door. The heat hit him like a slap in the face as soon as he was outside, and even as he winced he knew he’d made the right decision.
Carole looked over as the screen door snapped shut behind him, and her smile at the sight of him grew even broader when he offered her the damp towel. “Oh, thank you,” she said as she pulled off her gloves and she wiped her face. He still wasn’t used to the easy gift of gratitude from anyone but his dad, despite having had Carole, Finn, and Blaine in his life for so long now, and he only nodded in reply.
He took the towel back and gave her the lemonade in its place. She took a long drink before contemplating the small plot of struggling plants. Kurt was pleased to see the cilantro was still in place in the ground, but the tomato plants were dwarfed by their cages, and even the zucchini plants seemed kind of listless.
“Having a garden seemed like such a good idea when I first thought about it. But the weeds are doing better than the vegetables,” Carole said, pointing at the healthy-looking plants she’d put in her waste bucket.
“Maybe it’s the soil,” Kurt suggested, though he knew even less about gardening than she did. It just seemed like something you said.
“Maybe it’s the gardener.” She grinned at him and gulped down some more lemonade. “But I found two tiny green tomatoes and one zucchini flower today, so I hope by the end of the month we’ll be so overloaded with vegetables even Finn will be forced to eat some.”
Kurt snorted his lack of faith in the idea.
“Hey, it doesn’t hurt to be optimistic,” she said.
“About the vegetables growing or about Finn eating them?”
“Both.” She finished the lemonade and handed the glass to him before pulling her gloves back on and looking up at him in that kind, direct way of hers. “Thank you, Kurt. It was very thoughtful of you to bring those out to me.”
He shrugged, a little uncomfortable with how the comment made him feel but pleased, anyway. “You looked hot out here.”
“Weeding is hard work. If I’d known how hard I might have thought twice before starting the garden. But imagine how toned my biceps will be from all of the digging and pulling.” She flexed, trowel in hand, and they grinned at each other. “I could be at the start of a whole new exercise trend: aerobic gardening. Just watch. In a few months gyms will be building greenhouses and stocking up on fertilizer.”
“And the tabloids will be covered with pictures of celebrities with dirt on their hands and faces.”
“And under their fingernails.”
Kurt shuddered at the thought of the level of filth and poor grooming he’d be subjected to when walking by a rack of magazines. “Suddenly this idea is far less appealing.”
Carole laughed. “It really is. Although I have to admit I like the idea of gardening inside.” She readjusted the hat on her head. “This much sun on my back is getting old.”
“Can I get you anything else? More lemonade? Sunscreen?”
“No, thank you, not unless you have a big sun shade and someone to hold it over me while I work.” She rolled her neck and sighed up at him, no real frustration in it. “You know, Kurt, I like my life, but sometimes I think those English Victorian ladies had it right, getting to sit around and be served tea and cucumber sandwiches all day. The closest they got to their gardens was strolling through them spinning their parasols.”
Kurt considered that life for a moment; it sounded both totally boring and appealingly genteel. Alone it would be dull, but he could certainly get used to living in a mansion with Blaine, throwing parties, and singing all day. Not that he would have been able to live with Blaine back in Victorian times; Oscar Wilde had been thrown in jail for being gay, after all. That took the shine off of the fantasy. It was hard enough being gay now; he could only imagine how alone and quite literally persecuted he would have felt back then. Even thinking of it made his chest feel hollow and the world seem a little darker.
“You’d miss antibiotics,” he said, focusing back on the present. “And the right to vote.”
“Not to mention cars, dishwashers, and American Idol. You’re right; a little weeding is a small price to pay. All right. Back to work. These cucumbers are obviously not going to grow themselves, and I want to have tea and our own Hummel-Hudson-grown finger sandwiches by the end of the summer.”
Kurt wasn’t so optimistic, but he admired her determination, so he left her to her work and went back to his own. He’d had an idea on how to rewrite the bridge in Pippa’s big solo in the second act of the musical, and he wanted to be able to sing it to Blaine tonight on the phone if he could get it right.
The idea of parasols wouldn’t leave him alone, though, and after considering and discarding a big dance number with the chorus of socialites spinning them around and singing about the privileged and leisurely life of It Girls (he’d keep the notes for the lyrics and preliminary melody in case he decided to cut the thematically similar “Oxbridge Boys” song later on) he found himself thinking about how useful they really were as accessories. Furled, they could be used like a walking stick. Open, they shielded one’s skin from the sun and potentially one’s view of unpleasant people. They could be heavily decorated or look mundane on the outside and have fabulous designs on the inside or handle. They could be made of all sorts of materials from silk to leather, way more options than a rain-shielding umbrella. And they didn’t have to be all that feminine. Not all parasols had to be frilly and pink.
Kurt grabbed his laptop and sank down on the couch to do some research. He was surprised some time later when he was jerked out of his consuming exploration of ancient paintings of Indian rajas being followed around by servants carrying parasols by Finn sitting down on the other side of the couch and making the cushions rock.
“Burt let me operate the lift today,” Finn said by way of greeting. He looked tired, but his smile was a mile wide.
Kurt remembered the first time he’d been allowed to do that; he’d been quite a bit younger, but it had been a moment of great pride. “You must be doing well, then.”
“Yeah, I am. I really think I’m picking it up. I didn’t think I would, but I am. It’s cool, seeing how all of the pieces of a car work together.”
“That’s great.” Kurt smiled back and ignored the tiny curl of jealousy he couldn’t help but feel twist in his stomach; he didn’t know if there would ever not be remnants of sadness at how much Finn had in common with his dad, but they were a family. Kurt could handle it.
“So what are you doing? Working on your musical some more?” Finn leaned over to peer at Kurt’s screen, and Kurt pulled his computer back a little out of habit. “What are those? Umbrellas?”
“Like girls used to have in those old fashioned musicals Rachel always wants to watch?”
“Those had to be pretty annoying. Kind of like those big, floppy hats they used to wear. You know? They’d get in the way if you wanted to kiss her. And looking down all you’d see was parasol or hat instead of the girl’s face. And then you couldn’t talk or even tell if she wanted to kiss you. It’d really suck.”
“You can imagine why this problem has never crossed my mind,” Kurt commented dryly.
Finn blinked at him and then laughed. “Yeah. I guess it wouldn’t. Sorry. Dudes didn’t carry them.”
“Some did.” Kurt pointed his screen at Finn.
“Huh. Well, not anymore.”
“I was thinking the right parasol, maybe in black silk with a lacquered shaft and some metal trim at the handle, could be very useful. And stylish. Sort of Alexander McQueen.” A picture of an outfit was forming in Kurt’s head: definitely his top hat, probably a waistcoat and some sort of studded cravat, tall boots...
Finn stared at him for a moment. “You’re kidding, right?”
Kurt lifted his chin. “How long have you known me, Finn? Have I ever joked about fashion?” He could gesture with the parasol or open it with disdain when people annoyed him. It would also make getting through crowds of shoppers easier, because he could use it to poke the people in his way.
“No, but...” Finn looked down, then back up at Kurt. “I know you’re going to do what you want, and that’s cool, I like that about you, but... You carry one of those and people are going to call you Mary Poppins. If you’re lucky.”
“I’ve been called worse,” Kurt said. Finn wasn’t wrong, though, and as Kurt thought about it a part of him caught fire with the idea of making the parasol just to spite the people who would surely mock him, just to show them he could.
“Yeah.” Finn looked at him sadly and then shrugged. “Okay. You know I’m your brother. I’m on your side. You want a parasol, I say go for it.”
“As long as I don’t have to carry one,” Finn said. “I hate having to carry too much stuff. I’m always forgetting my umbrella places, or if I have it I don’t have enough free hands to open the door or get something from my backpack or use my phone. I’d rather get wet.”
“Fashion isn’t about convenience,” Kurt told him, but he could actually see Finn’s point. It would be kind of hard to text with a parasol in one hand, even worse than texting with a cup of coffee. And it wasn’t like he’d be that much cooler out in the summer heat just from not having the sun directly on him; it might save him a bit of sun damage, which wasn’t a benefit to overlook, but he’d still be out in the muggy, sweltering air. Once it was cool enough in the autumn that he wouldn’t mind sitting outside he’d be focused on scarves and hats as accessories and wouldn’t care so much about the shade.
Maybe there was a reason couture parasols hadn’t caught on.
As his dad came in from the kitchen, Kurt shut his laptop and put the idea of parasols to the back of his mind. He had better options for accessories.
Still, as he lay in bed that night with the whir of the air conditioning lulling him to sleep, Kurt continued to be tempted to make one. It wasn’t really the image of his outfit that was calling to him but the way it would challenge the people around him. It would force them to confront their own stupid prejudices about gender and fashion. They wouldn’t know what to do with it, and maybe, just maybe it would make them think.
Kurt rolled onto his side and pulled his sheet up over his shoulder. As much as he loved pushing those boundaries, if he was honest he was a little frustrated by having to think about fashion that way for every single outfit, about how even when confrontation wasn’t his initial goal the reality was that his sense of style might be too much for Lima. Knowing that he’d get stares - and not admiring ones - when he walked out of the house was something he was used to, and his instinct was to want to do it more, like if he challenged them enough they’d finally get it
He knew they wouldn’t. He knew Lima would never accept his sense of style... or him. They’d continue to stare and call him names. He could fight against them forever and never win. Not in Ohio.
But he wouldn’t be in Ohio forever.
One more year, and then he’d be somewhere where if he chose to walk down the street with a studded parasol because it was perfect for his outfit he’d be called polished instead of Poppins, fashion-forward instead of freaky... or another even less tolerant f-word he wasn’t even going to think to himself because he was so far above the people who would use it. When he was in the mood to wear something relatively simple and classic, he wouldn’t have a second’s consideration of whether he was hiding or just being himself. Outlandish accessories or perfectly cut menswear - or both - he’d be able to wear what he wanted and make a statement for himself without having to think about challenging other people out of spite at the same time.
When he left, his style was going be only about him, about the clothes he wanted to wear to show off who he was that day. Here, there was always that other voice in his head whether he wanted it or not, but there he wouldn’t have anything else to balance besides his own vision. It would be about him.
He only had one more year to wait.
“You want to go where?” Kurt asked, looking up from the magazine he’d been stretched out on the couch reading while Blaine had been playing Mario Kart with Finn. But then Finn had gone off to the kitchen to find more artificially colored snacks, and Blaine had made a suggestion Kurt wasn’t quite sure he’d heard correctly.
“To the Allen County Fairgrounds,” Blaine replied, twisting in his spot on the floor to look Kurt in the eyes. His hand settled on Kurt’s shin, warm and heavy atop his jeans.
“To see dogs?”
“It’s not just dogs. It’s the Flea Market and Water Dog Races this weekend. So there’s shopping, too.”
Kurt wanted to reply that flea markets weren’t shopping, but the reality was that vintage treasures could pop up anywhere, and he was on a budget. And dry cleaning could do incredible things with actual fleas. So instead he said, “Why do you want to go? You don’t even have a dog.”
“No, I don’t. My dad never went for it, but - “ The spark in Blaine’s eyes grew brighter. “Have you ever seen a water dog in a race? They’re amazing, Kurt. They were bred to help hunters. They can swim, fetch, and bark in different ways to alert their owners of animals they have treed. They’re so fast and agile, so great in the water. There’s something kind of awesome about watching a dog live up to its full potential and do what it was born to do.”
Kurt couldn’t help but soften at the way Blaine’s natural inclination to want everyone to be their best and happiest selves even translated to four-legged species. He closed his magazine and mentally delayed his plans for their start of the school year home spa day, though he wasn’t going to cancel it entirely, because on top of the vitamin infusion and moisturizing they could both use after months of exposure to the summer sun he’d need the effects of those calming aromatherapy candles if he was going to get through the dance Blaine was doing about whether or not he might join Kurt at McKinley this year. But there was still a little more time to squeeze that in before school started.
“Okay,” he said, and Blaine beamed at him, glanced over his shoulder toward the kitchen, and leaned up to give Kurt a quick, hard kiss. Kurt drew in a slow breath and didn’t chase after him as Blaine pulled back to settle on the floor again. “But you’ll have to explain to me why I’m supposed to be impressed by wet dogs fetching things.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll figure it out when we’re there.”
The strange thing to Kurt was that he did. He didn’t understand why people would want to buy a square in a pen to win a prize if a pig relieved itself in their particular allotment, he was forced to pretend that his sunglasses obscured the worst of the fashion tragedies of the fellow fair-goers so that he didn’t spend the entire day reeling in horror, and he was highly suspicious of the ingredients in the hot dogs and nacho cheese in the food carts - even if the bite he’d had of Blaine soft pretzel had been so good he’d nearly turned around to get one of his own - but the dogs he actually got.
“Look how happy they are,” Kurt said as he and Blaine stood in the crowd of onlookers watching the dogs doing one of their water events. It seemed to be a fairly straight-forward if regulated toss and retrieve into the pond, but the dogs were nearly knocking themselves over with their dripping, wagging tails when they got back to their owners. Their joy and pride was undeniable, and Kurt found himself smiling at the latest canine contestant.
“When you’re doing what you like, it doesn’t matter how hard the work is,” Blaine replied, bouncing a little on his toes as he watched the next dog launching itself into the water. “You know that.”
Kurt turned his head slowly toward him as he parsed his boyfriend’s words. “Did you just compare me to a dog, Blaine Anderson?”
Blaine flinched before giving Kurt a sheepish grin. “I compared the dog to you?”
“I’m really not sure that’s better.”
“Sure it is,” Blaine tried. “You’re great, and the dog is - “
Kurt could not stand to hear another word. He focused back on the dog paddling its way through the water. "Just stop.”
“Thank you.” Blaine’s shoulders dropped in relief.
“I didn’t stop you for your sake.”
“Then let me buy you a lemonade in apology when this race is over.”
“I accept,” Kurt said, and he nudged Blaine’s elbow as they shared a smile. “But I won’t forget.”
They slowly made their way through the fairgrounds toward the fresh-squeezed lemonade booth Kurt had spotted earlier; the pathways were getting busy with people and their dogs, since apparently the races were a spectator sport for the canines in the family, too. At some points it would have been easier to be sure they could stay together by holding hands like mothers were doing with their children and teenage girls doing with their boyfriends, but Kurt knew he and Blaine couldn’t take the risk. The crowd would not have been friendly to that sort of thing, especially with the sideways looks Kurt had been getting all day in his knee-high Docs - just the right choice to protect his jeans against muddy splashes, even if he’d have to go at the leather with brushes and polish tonight - designer sunglasses, and perfectly pressed white shirt in this crowd of ratty jean shorts and football T-shirts. And he’d dressed down.
(Although the light in Blaine’s eyes when he’d first seen Kurt that morning had made it perfectly clear that the right simple outfit could still do amazing things. Not that they'd been able to act on Blaine’s appreciation with Kurt's dad standing right there, but Kurt had still basked in it.)
So he and Blaine just kept an eye on each other and waited beyond the crowd when they got separated in the busy flow. They didn’t really have a choice, not if they wanted to keep enjoying their day. And Kurt was mostly enjoying it, because Blaine’s enthusiasm was infectious... much like the sore that woman had on her face probably was. Kurt gave her a wide berth when he passed.
“Oh, he's gorgeous,” Blaine said with distinct longing in his voice when he caught up around one traffic jam, and Kurt’s head snapped around so quickly he was glad he was used to it from dancing because otherwise it would have made him dizzy. He knew that tone. He knew it really well. It was usually directed at him.
“I’m right here,” Kurt replied shortly. He couldn’t believe Blaine was ogling some guy, especially not aloud.
“I know,” Blaine said, still looking down the side path between the food carts. “Look at his chest. Wow.”
Something simultaneously icy and hot rose in Kurt’s veins, and he found himself drawing up to his full height. He allowed himself a moment of satisfaction at just how much taller his boots made him than his boyfriend just then. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I bet he’s really strong.” Blaine let out a little sigh that made Kurt’s mouth turn bitter. Mere lemonade was not going to be able to erase this moment.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Kurt turned on his heel toward the lemonade booth, because he was not going to stand there and listen to his boyfriend go all dreamy over another man. It was one thing when they were debating the relative merits of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but it was quite another when it was a guy who was right there and so was Kurt. And they were in public, which made it all the more stupid, because they were always so careful, except that Blaine was ogling -
Blaine grabbed his arm and said, “Look, Kurt. Look how happy he is with that bone!” He pointed down the row of stalls to where a sort of fluffy, brawny dog was dancing on its hind legs as the woman with him offered him a large chunk of bone.
“You’re talking about a dog,” Kurt said. He took a deep breath and backed away from his hurt and fury. Of course Blaine wasn’t talking about another guy. That would have been ridiculous... although so was talking about a dog with quite that much admiration. He narrowed his eyes at the animal in question.
“Yeah, look at him,” Blaine said, leaning forward a little on his toes as though the hand he had on Kurt’s arm was actually keeping him tethered like a leash. “He’s an Australian sheep dog. They’re really smart. I wish they had herding events here. You should see them herd things; they’re so quick and focused. It’s like a dance.
“They’re not always great with kids, though. One of my dad’s friends had one when I was little, like five or six, and she used to try to herd me when we’d go over for cookouts. She knocked me over a few times when I tried to pat her or play with her, actually, because I wasn’t going where she wanted.”
“You’re saying she thought you were a sheep?” Kurt asked.
Blaine smoothed the back of his hair self-consciously. “Well, they herd pretty much anything. Sheep, ducks...”
“Small but enthusiastic children.”
“Exactly,” Blaine said with a flashing grin. He seemed to notice that he was still touching Kurt, and he pulled his hand back with a glance around at the people nearby. “Anyway. I believe I still owe you an apology lemonade.”
“And an apology soft pretzel,” Kurt replied. “Which I may or may not share with you.” He knew it wasn’t quite fair to require an additional apology for Blaine’s longing sighs over the dog, but Blaine really wasn’t supposed to talk about anyone or anything else in that tone of voice. And that pretzel had been delicious.
They found their way to the appropriate food stand, and Blaine paid for their drinks and presented Kurt’s to him with a courtly flourish that made Kurt laugh and the woman behind the counter shoot them a cold look. Kurt turned away and took a sip with his head held high; it wasn’t like he cared about the opinion of a woman with an inch of roots showing and a bad home perm.
“Pretzel?” Blaine asked with the overly polite smile that came out when he knew people around had noticed them.
Kurt inclined his head. “No salt, extra mustard.”
They wandered side by side after Blaine procured a pretzel for Kurt, which he delivered with a warm glance but less fanfare than the lemonade. There wasn’t much to catch Kurt’s attention, at least not in a good way. The so-called barnyard bingo was still going on - he overheard one woman complain to her husband that last year’s pig had taken more than three hours before it had done its business, like it had been deliberately delaying the presentation of what had to be an important prize like dinner for two at Bill’s BBQ and Burger Bar - and the treeing events seemed to be more loud than interesting. Running, swimming, and fetching at least had more action and skill than dogs barking at a poor raccoon dangling in a cage high above the ground.
“Don’t most people train their dogs not to bark their heads off at other animals so they don’t keep the neighbors up all night?” Kurt asked after the third dog had done its thing. He leaned his arm against the fence surrounding the contest area and turned toward Blaine.
“This is for hunting,” Blaine said, watching the next dog trot up to the pole with its owner. “So the hunter knows the prey is cornered.”
Kurt cocked his hip, fixed him with a look, and waited until Blaine noticed. It took three minutes and another round of barking before he did.
Blaine lifted his eyebrows as he took in Kurt’s pose. “Would you like to check out the flea market?” he asked with the impeccable manners Kurt so appreciated.
“Yes,” Kurt told him with only a little exasperation now that he had Blaine’s attention.
The flea market was stocked with seemingly everything, and most of it Kurt did not want: guns, dog beds, dog toys, dog food, woodworking tools, lawn chairs, garden gnomes, more guns, ATVs, rows upon rows of steel-toed work boots (and not even attractive ones), table saws, toys, bath products, laundry detergent, poorly made t-shirts, no-name jeans, ammunition, hunting knives, wallets, house plants, gardening supplies, bows and arrows, baseball caps, sports jerseys, sights and scopes, CDs, and even more guns.
He did investigate the displays of old tires and spare engine parts to see if there was anything his father might like to keep in storage in the shop, but the unfriendly gazes of the narrow-eyed and narrow-minded men behind the tables as they looked over Kurt from head to toe didn’t make him eager to linger when there didn’t seem to be much of value.
A part of him wished he could have pointed out an error like a mislabeled carburetor or found a rare and valuable rim he could have gotten for a steal from a clueless merchant, but searching through the heaps of parts for the potential of a moment of smug satisfaction didn’t seem like the best use of his time, not when it was time with Blaine and not when the potential for comments that would wound them both but eat at Blaine was greater the longer they were in sight.
So Kurt sailed past the vendors and steered Blaine toward what he hoped were more promising areas of the market.
“I thought there were supposed to be more clothes here,” Blaine said as they walked past yet another busy table covered with rifles.
“There’s some army surplus,” Kurt replied, gesturing to the piles of camouflage t-shirts and uninspired webbing belts. He didn’t even slow his steps; they weren’t worth his attention.
“That doesn’t really count as clothing.”
Kurt shot him a smile, because of course it didn’t, not when the pieces were so basic. “No,” he agreed. “Now, if they’d had some jackets or more formal uniforms, I might have been able to work with them.”
Blaine nodded. “Of course.” He said it so easily, like he understood exactly how Kurt’s mind worked and could follow his every thought, that Kurt wanted to reach out for his hand in gratitude at how precious that was. But he didn’t and just smiled at him instead with appreciation and a touch of sadness that he couldn’t do more.
“Is there anything you’re looking for?” Kurt asked. Giving up some of his shopping time for Blaine seemed like the best he could offer; even here, it was hardly a meaningless gift for him to give.
“I’m just along for the ride,” Blaine said, and he smiled like he knew yet again what Kurt meant.
The next row over was more promising, although discount charity shops would also have fit that category compared with basic army surplus. At least there were more interesting items like hand-dyed t-shirts, inexpertly knitted scarves, and displays of odds and ends that looked like they came out of someone’s attic. They probably had.
“Look at these,” Blaine said, drawing to the side of the path to marvel at a battered violin sitting next to an equally maligned guitar.
“A little TLC and they’d play a treat,” the vendor told them from his chair. “Some polish, a new bow for the violin, and you’d be in business.”
“Hmm,” Blaine said as he picked up the guitar. It had no strings, and Kurt studied it more closely. It looked well-proportioned and quite appealing in Blaine’s grasp, but there was something about it that seemed off.
“It’s water damaged,” he said to Blaine. “Look at the way the wood is warped on the back. It isn’t just the finish. He probably took the strings off so people couldn’t hear how its sound has been ruined.” He gestured toward the vendor.
Blaine’s eyes widened as though he were truly scandalized, which, Kurt thought, he probably was. He set down the instrument.
“Just needs a little TLC,” said the man, but he didn’t look surprised when they walked off.
“I’m sorry, Kurt. I think the shopping part of our day may be a bust,” Blaine said with a sigh. “At least the dogs were cool.”
Kurt gave a display of bags a desultory glance. There was nothing of interest. “Just make sure you pull me out of here if the most certainly toxic fumes coming off of all of these cheap products from who knows where give me a hallucination of Tim Gunn, and I start trying to make garments out of dog beds and shell casings in the vain hope of impressing Michael Kors over there.” He gestured at an older man wearing a pair of plaid shorts and a lime green polo shirt.
Blaine patted his arm. “Only one row left. Hang in there.”
Kurt didn’t feel optimistic as they turned the corner. There was no way he was going to buy cleaning products from a flea market or, god, was that shampoo? Still, he’d looked over the rest of the junk on offer, so he let his eyes drift over the booths. Even a bad shopping day was worth putting in the effort. Some leather belts caught his eye, and he drifted over to see if any were interesting.
They weren’t, but he was still tempted to buy a few to keep on hand for future projects. So many looks could be changed by the addition of just the right belt or buckle, and with some hot glue and a stud gun he could work wonders on even the most mundane of objects. It could be a very wise purchase. He flicked through the piles for the right size.
“Oh my god,” Blaine said behind him in a low voice that was wavering between horror and fascination.
Kurt turned to find Blaine watching a man in jeans, a faded black metal band t-shirt, and a bright orange hunting cap holding up a pair of underwear - white tightie-whities - to himself at the stall across the way, nodding to the guy behind the table, and adding a stack of briefs to one of his plastic bags at his feet. A pile of jeans, some t-shirts, and at least one army surplus belt were visible inside the bags.
“I think this may be the least fashionable place on the planet,” Kurt murmured back. He was situated firmly and unwaveringly on the side of horror.
He put the belt in his hands back on the table; it had lost all of its potential from even being near that man.
“I think I’m going to have to agree with you,” Blaine said.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but let’s finish shopping and go back to the barking dogs.”
Halfway down the row, though, Kurt finally found a table that was selling interesting goods. It mostly looked like items you’d find at a garage sale, but there was a bowl filled with earrings, pins, necklaces, watches, and rings.
“Hey, they have records.” Blaine started to flick through the few vinyl records in a box at the other end of the booth.
Kurt was vaguely aware of Blaine commenting on the music - there was nothing interesting enough there for him to require a reply - while he gently sifted through the contents of the bowl. It was all costume jewelry, but most of it was old enough to be out of the ordinary.
A pair of wooden pins in the shape of flying ducks caught his eye, and he pulled them out of the tangle of jewelry. They were in fairly good shape, the colors bright and even the fine details in the wood still sharp. He hummed to himself, considering their kind of homely nature. He could feel the rough grain beneath the patina-ed varnish, and they were anything but refined.
Still, they called to him. There was a sense of familiarity, and he suddenly realized why. He didn’t remember much about his mother’s parents, since they’d died before she had, but he did have a memory of some sort of family room in their house with patchwork-upholstered couches, heavy blue curtains, and painted wooden mallard ducks in flight on the paneled walls. These brooches were certainly not identical, but they reminded him of them.
“Ducks?” Blaine asked, peering over his shoulder with curiosity.
Kurt shrugged. “As a memento of our day, it’s better than a caged raccoon,” he replied. He turned the pins over in his hand, examining them for flaws. He didn’t find any beyond a little wear due to their age.
“Or dog bed couture.”
“Exactly. How much are these?” he asked, holding out the brooches on his palm to the woman sitting in a lawn chair behind the table. He wasn’t exactly sure what he’d do with them, but he hadn’t gotten this far in his life without learning to trust his instincts when it came to fashion choices or to songs he could sing better than Rachel. These pins called to him, so he was going to buy them.
“Eight bucks each, fifteen for both,” she said.
“Twelve,” Kurt said. “And I’ll give you another three for this broken pocket watch you know nobody else is even going to glance at nevertheless buy from you today.”
She looked at him for a long, shrewd moment and then nodded. “Fifteen for all three.”
He fished out the bills and declined the clearly re-used plastic shopping bag she offered him to hold his purchases. He did accept Blaine’s offer to carry them in the pocket of his shorts, though, because they were less form-fitting than his own jeans.
“These are pretty cool,” Blaine said, looking at the pins more closely when Kurt set them in his hand.
“Yes. I’m not sure what I’ll wear them with,” Kurt replied, “but I’ll think of something. Maybe a woodland creature theme. Or hunting chic. Hunting gear is so ugly, all that orange, but I bet I could come up with something.”
Blaine smiled at him fondly. “I’m sure you will. I can’t wait to see it.”
Kurt smiled back and led the way back toward the dog races. “I only wish I could come back and show all of these people that there’s no excuse not to be fashionable even when you shop at a flea market.”
“You can wear the outfit next year.”
Kurt made a noncommittal noise, because even if he were still here this time next fall whatever he put together this month would be out of fashion in a year. He could use the brooches, though; accessories like that were timeless. Which was even more reason for everyone else at the fair to be ashamed of how they were dressed, really. With a little effort they could all have been if not fabulous at least passable.
Yet for reasons he simply could not fathom, they just didn’t care. It was like they were from another planet. Or he was. Given the numbers, he was clearly the one who didn’t belong here.
He was used to it. At least he had Blaine by his side... or he had until a second before, when Blaine had stopped in his tracks.
Kurt turned to see what had caught Blaine’s attention.
“Oh, look, Kurt! It’s a Newfie.” Blaine pointed to a massive, shaggy, black dog that was drooling beatifically on the happy little girl holding its leash. It was twice as big as she was. It would have been daunting if it weren’t so soggy.
“That’s a dog? Are you sure it isn’t a bear in disguise? Or a pony?” Kurt asked.
“Nope. All dog.”
Blaine grinned. “Yeah. Isn’t it cool? They’re really good rescue dogs, because they’re strong enough to pull people out of the water.”
“I'd be worried about them drowning people in their slobber once they were back on dry land."
Blaine laughed and gestured for them to continue on, but Kurt watched his eyes follow the dog as they walked past. Blaine looked fond, wistful, and maybe a little resigned all at once. It also hadn’t escaped Kurt’s notice that Blaine knew an awful lot about dogs, despite never having had one.
Kurt made an adjustment to his vision of the future.
Their first apartment was going to be so tiny there would barely be room for the two of them and his clothes, Kurt knew that, but maybe in their second one instead of just focusing on luxuries like in-unit laundry or a spare room they could make sure they had enough space and a convenient local park for a dog.
It wouldn’t be a Newfoundland for so many reasons, starting with its size and ending definitively with its drool, but a smaller, more refined toy breed (like that perky little Papillon Blaine had pointed out a woman carrying earlier - though Kurt guessed Blaine would go straight to the mutts at the pound) might be all right, as long as it didn’t shed too much or Kurt could get a good deal on lint rollers.
He tucked a tasteful Burberry dog bed into the corner of their future living room and added Blaine running around with the dog at the park while Kurt read the style section of the paper on a nearby bench to their Saturday morning coffee routine. He had no need to dress the dog like a person or, god forbid, match their accessories, but he would definitely need to think about coordinating leash and collar colors. There was no reason to clash.
Still, Kurt thought as they passed by the barnyard bingo pen - now quiet, so the pig must have finally done its business - he was not going to include dog trials in their future. He couldn’t imagine they would ever be an event they’d feel comfortable or welcomed. He couldn’t imagine he and Blaine would be anything but out of place.
Although it might be worth considering the Westminster Dog Show, just in case Blaine didn’t pick out a mutt. Kurt was not going to become a dog person, but he could only begin to imagine the outfits he could wear there.
He hummed to himself as his fingers brushed against Blaine’s between them. Yes, those brooches were going to last far beyond a single outfit this season.
Kurt knew he should have kept the bouquet in the refrigerator overnight so that it was as fresh as possible the next day, but he’d justified setting it in a vase in his room to try to coax the roses open a little further while he slept. He wanted them to be perfect for Blaine. And, really, he wanted to be able to see them when he woke up to reinforce the rightness in the gesture he was going to make. It might have been a little bittersweet, but his heart still lifted every time he thought of what he was going to do.
His eyes kept drifting to the blooms as he got ready that morning. He’d picked the most gorgeous colors, no matter how the florist had tried to steer him to a single, traditional shade. No, the bright yellow and red were beautiful and bold, just like Blaine. He would be surprised by Kurt’s gesture, but more than that he was going to like them. There was no point if he didn’t. This was supposed to be for Blaine, not for Kurt. He had to like the flowers. They were to celebrate him.
Getting two dozen stems had also been the right choice. The cost of a dozen had already been eating up most of his spending money for the week, so since he was going to have to ask his dad for some hours at the shop anyway, he’d figured he might as well do it properly. Blaine deserved it. He was going to make the most amazing Tony. It didn’t matter that Kurt hadn’t expected to lose the lead to anyone. Blaine really did deserve it.
Kurt stood in front of his open closet and considered his options. He wanted to go basic, masculine, nothing too fanciful. When he handed Blaine those flowers he wanted Blaine to focus on them, not on him. This wasn’t about him. So he’d pull together an outfit that was stylish and flattering but not flashy. Not today.
That was why he’d declined adding a big wired bow or a shiny helium balloon to the bouquet, no matter how hard the florist had tried to sell him on them. They might have made the presentation a little more spectacular, but it wouldn’t have impressed Blaine. Kurt had decided to let the flowers speak for themselves, just like the gesture was going to. No public serenade - though that was really Blaine’s thing, anyway - or poetic declaration. Just simple and honest.
So Kurt flicked through his closet and discarded a dozen different options until he found the distressed denim and leather shirt. That would be perfect. It was interesting enough not to require him to pair it with more than the right hat and jeans, and yet at first glance it was fairly basic. He’d look good, but he wouldn’t be screaming for attention, either from Blaine or anyone else. That was exactly what he wanted.
The flowers needed to be the focus, not a bow, not a balloon, not him.
Kurt finished putting together his outfit and examined himself in front of the mirror as he adjusted his hat. He nodded, satisfied. The look was subdued but successful. Then he picked up the bouquet and held it in front of himself, offering it to his reflection. Yes, the flowers were what stood out, bright, fresh, and beautiful. They didn’t need anything else.
He mentally said “I told you so” to the florist and her pushy suggestions for embellishments. His vision was perfect. This was supportive and romantic. He’d look ridiculous with a balloon bouncing over his head.
Besides, there had been something sad about the helium-filled balloons dancing restlessly in their cage on the ceiling, stirred by the air coming through the open door but unable to break loose. It seemed foolish to feel sympathy for party decorations, but some part of him had wanted to pull them out and let them fly free up into the blue autumn sky, where they could flash and shimmer before seeking a destiny beyond being an afterthought on a mundane get well bouquet.
No, no balloon for him. Blaine’s flowers were perfect just as they were. And Kurt needed to stop worrying about inanimate objects.
With another satisfied twist in front of the mirror, he picked up his book bag and went to find a little breakfast before he went to school.
A minute later he trotted back up the stairs and grabbed his silver fox tail. It wouldn’t take away from the flowers, but he needed one more little accessory, just to round out the look.
There was simple, and then there was plain. Kurt Hummel was never plain.
Kurt flicked off the food processor and opened the lid; the earthy, lemony, garlicky aroma of the hummus filled his nose.
“That smells really good,” Blaine said, leaning over the bowl and inhaling appreciatively.
“I told you fresh was better than store-bought,” Kurt said with more than a little pride. He unhooked the bowl from the motor and used a spatula to scrape the hummus out into a serving dish. “And you can control the amount of garlic and herbs so you don’t spend the rest of the day scaring people with your breath.”
“I still say you should’ve put more in. I’ll be eating it, too, so my breath will smell the same.” Blaine tipped his head and added with a teasing sparkle in his eyes, “Unless you’re planning to kiss someone else?”
Kurt rolled his eyes, but he leaned in for a soft peck, anyway, secure in the knowledge that Carole was downstairs doing the laundry. He might not have stopped himself even if she’d been in the next room, though. He wanted to kiss Blaine. He hadn’t really expected that they’d feel so much closer than they had been before having had sex over the weekend, but it was definitely harder for him not to express his feelings when they were somewhere he could do so safely.
“Only you,” Kurt assured him, and Blaine ran his hand down his back, smiling. The touch made the hair on his arms stand on end and his skin tingle, and he wondered how people ever got used to this feeling. He didn’t want to, despite it being so distracting. It was wonderful to be wanted, to be connected, to be loved. Blaine was wonderful.
“Then let’s dig in.” Blaine went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bag of baby carrots. “It’s going to be great.”
“It will be better if we eat it tomorrow,” Kurt told him as seriously as he could, just to see Blaine’s face fall. “What? It will. The flavors will pull together overnight.”
“I thought this was our reward for getting through yet another frustrating Glee rehearsal.”
Kurt took the bag of carrots and put them back in the fridge. “No, the hummus is our reward for our exceptional run of West Side Story.” He went to the cabinet. “These - “ He pulled out the bag of pita chips he’d been hiding for days from Finn. “ - are our reward for sitting through Finn’s lectures in Glee today.”
Blaine’s shoulders sagged with relief, and he beamed at Kurt. “Even better.”
Kurt pulled a wooden serving bowl from one of the upper shelves and emptied a third of the bag into it. “Although I’m not sure mere carbs can dull the pain of our rehearsal today. Between his attitude and Rachel’s, I’m almost missing the days when Mr. Schue gave us horrific assignments week after week instead of letting the two of them drive us all crazy.”
Blaine nodded without saying anything, like he’d been doing a lot lately when Kurt had brought up Rachel. It wasn’t that he was unsupportive, but he had established his own relationship with his leading lady. On a good day, Kurt could understand that, even if it rankled that he could only complain but not have a two-way conversation about how annoying she was. It also rankled that he was supposed to have spent his senior year surrounded by all of his friends and yet had been so betrayed by Rachel on her climb to the top that he’d been cheated out of that friendship while Blaine still had her good will. But then, Blaine wasn’t her competition; she would step on him, too, if he were.
“Here.” Kurt offered Blaine a chair and set the food on the kitchen table. He slid into his own seat and nudged the toe of his shoe against Blaine’s until Blaine looked up and smiled at him. “Ready to try the hummus?”
“Absolutely.” Blaine scooped up some hummus on a bit of chip and made a happy noise when he popped it into his mouth. “That’s great.”
“Mmm,” Kurt agreed, taking a bite of his own.
“This is the best reward. A little more garlic and I could forget we even had rehearsal today.”
Kurt gave him a gentle kick.
“Sorry,” Blaine said. “It’s really good. You know I’m just frustrated.”
“I’d say Finn was dropped on his head repeatedly as a child, but Carole’s a good mother, so it can’t be that.” Kurt put his hand over Blaine’s on top of the table and wished he knew what else he could do. “Maybe it’s all of the sacking in football.”
Blaine shrugged and poked at the hummus with the corner of his chip. “I do know what I’m talking about.”
“Yes, you do.”
“And I know New Directions isn’t the Warblers, but it’s not like my suggestions are out of - “ Whatever Blaine was going to say was cut off by Carole coming in after dropping an armful of clean towels on the couch. He pulled his hand out from beneath Kurt’s and turned to her in greeting.
“Oh, that smells good,” she said after smiling at them both. “There’s nothing like garlic and fresh lemon.”
“We made a double batch if you’d like some,” Kurt said.
“Thank you. Maybe after I get those towels away. We don’t need the linen closet smelling like hummus.” She came to stand between them and inhaled deeply. “Mmm. Please make sure you don’t eat it all before I’m done.”
“Of course we won’t,” Kurt told her, slightly indignant. “We made a double batch. We couldn’t possibly finish it.”
Carole laughed. “Sorry. I forgot for a minute I wasn’t talking to Finn. As much as I’ll miss him, when he moves out and we’re not going through five gallons of milk a week and running out of cereal every other day, I’m not going to know what to do with myself. That and being able to watch whatever I want on television is going to make me feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury.” She put her hand on Blaine’s shoulder. “Speaking of our television, I hope now that the musical is over you won’t be too busy for video game nights. We’ve missed you. And I’m not just saying that because you always help me clean up afterwards.” She winked at him. “I know you’re working hard, but fun is important, too.”
Kurt didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was Finn’s fault Blaine wasn’t there when the guys descended on the house, because Blaine wasn’t on Finn’s list when he sent out texts for his friends to come over. Mike, Artie, and Puck always included him at their houses, but Finn almost never did.
“Thanks, Carole,” Blaine said.
She squeezed his shoulder and went to put away the towels, and Kurt was left watching Blaine’s polite smile fade as he looked at the table.
Kurt drew his hand down Blaine’s arm from his shoulder to elbow and up again, and after a moment Blaine turned to smile at him. It was a little forced, like he was trying not to show the sadness and frustration that were so clear to Kurt’s eyes. He was trying so hard. He always was.
“Come upstairs with me,” Kurt said. He squeezed Blaine’s shoulder.
“What?” Blaine flushed and lowered his voice. He leaned in closer. “Kurt, Carole’s here.”
Kurt swatted him on the arm in what was surely a vain attempt to control the heat that rose in his own face at the mere suggestion of a little intimate time alone. Or a lot of intimate time alone, enough that he could pull Blaine’s shirt off and run his fingers along the soft skin of his stomach above his waistband with its dusting of wiry hair that led down toward - He cleared his throat. “Not for that. Just come with me.”
He left the door open halfway more out of a reminder to himself than anything, because he knew Carole wasn’t as strict about what the definition of an open door was as his father was, and gestured for Blaine to sit on his bed. Then he fetched the package from his lower desk drawer. He’d kept the wrapping simple, just pale grey paper and a charcoal ribbon, and he set it down on his duvet by his hip as he settled next to Blaine.
“Kurt?” Blaine asked, peering over him toward the present.
“I was going to give you this before opening night, but...”
Blaine nodded and glanced down at his lap. “The week didn’t turn out like either of us had planned.”
Kurt didn’t like the guilt still lurking in Blaine’s eyes, so he smoothed his hand over Blaine’s knee and a few inches up his thigh until Blaine looked back at him. “It turned out well in the end.”
Blaine smiled a little, and he picked up Kurt’s hand and kissed his knuckles. “It did.”
“Anyway,” Kurt said, suddenly and quite ridiculously flustered by the brief touch of Blaine’s warm lips, “this is for you.” Barely breathing, he offered him the wrapped gift and watched Blaine closely as he carefully removed the bow and paper. He had no idea how Blaine would react to the present or whether it would be meaningful to him in the way it was to Kurt.
Inside was a long, narrow pencil box. The box itself was made of a fine-grained birch, and Kurt had polished the hinges and stripped the scuffed and boring varnish when he’d brought it home from the stationery store. Then he’d added a few abstract etched embellishments around the rim of the lid before he stained the whole thing in a warm, medium tone. Only after the box was properly prepared had he been able to set himself to the real task of decoupaging it and giving it a smooth but slightly distressed finish.
With the tip of one finger, Blaine touched the overlapping simplistic line-drawing images of a man in a suit with dark hair and glasses. Kurt had gone to great care to make the pictures look almost translucent against the wood, not entirely visible from afar.
“This is amazing,” Blaine said, turning the box over in his hands with reverence, and only then was Kurt able to exhale. Blaine didn’t think it was silly, at least not yet. “Did you make this?”
“Thank you.” Blaine leaned in to cup one side of Kurt’s face, but Kurt pulled back and shook his head before Blaine could kiss him.
“Open it,” he said before Blaine’s confusion could turn into hurt. “Open it, Blaine. There’s more.”
“Okay.” Frowning a little, Blaine opened the lid of the box, and he sucked in a surprised breath. Kurt knew what he was seeing: a line-drawing of a man in profile, stretched out along the narrow lid, one arm held out ahead of him, his cape flowing in stylized swirls behind him. There was the faintest wash of blues and reds over him. “Is that - ?”
“Superman.” Kurt bobbed his shoulder. “Sort of. Abstracted. Like Clark Kent on the outside.”
“What - ? How did you - ?”
“Decoupage. Photoshop. The internet.” Kurt held himself still and waited for Blaine to do more than just stare at the box, examining it inside and out. He was fairly certain it was a good stare, but it went on and on. When Blaine touched the small etched KH tucked in the inside corner of the lid, Kurt couldn’t hold back anymore. “I wanted you to have something to remind you how I feel about you,” he blurted out. “More than just loving you. I know how much you have to hold in sometimes. I know what’s behind your smile. I know why you hide it, but also I know just how incredible you are. How high you can fly when it’s the right time, Blaine.”
Blaine looked up at him and swallowed hard. His eyes were bright, and when he breathed Kurt’s name it was with shock and gratitude. “Kurt,” he said again after clearing his throat. “Thank you.”
Kurt shrugged a little but didn’t look away. “This way you can’t forget, even when I’m not there. Even when you’re keeping the peace with Finn or having to listen to your father or putting up with me talking about going away next year when you’ll still be here - ”
He didn’t get to complete his thought, because Blaine carefully set down the box and grabbed him, hauling Kurt close and kissing him over and over, harder, deeper, with so much feeling that Kurt lost track of which direction was up and where the sun was in the sky. Blaine was his only point of reference - his lips on Kurt’s mouth and jaw, his arms around him, his weight against him.
The flurry of Blaine’s emotion didn’t last for so long that Kurt got completely overwhelmed, though, and as the world swam into focus and he found himself being kissed into his pillows with Blaine above him he couldn’t contain his smile. “So you like it?” he asked when Blaine nuzzled against his throat before pressing his mouth there.
“What do you think?” Blaine asked with a soft laugh. He kissed beneath Kurt’s ear, along his jaw, and to the corner of his mouth. His palm was pressed tight over Kurt’s hipbone, his grip possessive. “Thank you.” He met Kurt’s eyes, and the love in them was deep and breathtaking.
“You’re welcome.” Kurt could feel his smile trembling at the edge with joy, with relief at his offering being accepted, with a formless ache in his heart that Blaine needed that kind of reassurance when he was so amazing but couldn’t see it. But that’s why Kurt had made the pencil box for him, so that Blaine could carry it in his bag and be reminded every day, a dozen times a day, that everyone else around him might not know it yet but he could fly. He would, and they’d all be forced to stare after him when he showed his true abilities and left all of them but Kurt behind.
Kurt tightened his arms around Blaine’s shoulders. “I’m drawing the line at you actually wearing a cape, though,” he said before he could get too swept away. The other night he’d learned just easy it was to fall completely into Blaine, not just physically but emotionally, and as much as he wanted to reforge that connection this was neither the time nor the place.
“I had one when I was a kid,” Blaine said. He drew in a breath and settled onto his side, staying close. He rubbed his hand along Kurt’s side in a caress that was both maddening and comforting.
“Of course you did. I bet you had superhero underoos, too.”
Kurt shook his head and twined his fingers with Blaine’s. “I just wanted Wonder Woman’s tiara.”
“Of course you did,” Blaine said with a warm laugh and so much adoration in his eyes Kurt had to kiss him again as his heart soared.
Kurt loved watching Blaine perform. He’d noticed that Blaine was attractive the first second he’d laid eyes on him a year ago, but when Blaine started to sing and dance in front of him Kurt lost all ability to look away. He’d always thought he should be embarrassed about that fact, but he’d never been able to work up to it. He wasn’t blind, after all. Why shouldn’t he be mesmerized?
It had only gotten more compelling to watch Blaine since that first performance, because Kurt had learned enough about him to know that the light in his eyes when he sang was real, that even though it was a part of his stage persona the joy was as real and powerful in him as it was when he smiled at Kurt. Blaine shone like the sun when he performed, and it took a lot of focus for Kurt not to get caught up in it when he wasn’t on stage with him.
So as he sat in his chair at the edge of the risers in the choir room browsing on his phone for a new scarf on his favorite handmade clothing site, one eye was watching Blaine down on the floor working out some sort of choreography with Finn and Mike. Kurt wasn’t exactly sure what they were doing, nor did he think it would go well with the varied dancing skills of the three of them, but he still couldn’t look away entirely. There was something so compelling in the way Blaine moved, in the bounce and twirl of his steps and the sure lines of his body. He was focused but had a happy energy to his movements as he and Mike tried out a few different spins and Finn looked on with more than a little worry.
“Hey,” Mercedes said as she sank into the chair in front of and one over from Kurt and turned around in her seat to talk to him. “What are they doing?”
“Dancing?” Kurt replied.
“I meant what are they choreographing? Sectionals is over, and we don’t have an assignment already, do we?”
“When have we ever needed an assignment to perform?” Kurt asked. He thumbed to the next page of scarves, scrolling past pictures of hand-painting and -embroidery.
Mercedes laughed. “At least that hasn’t changed around here.”
“No.” A swath of sky blue silk caught his eye, and he clicked over to check out the larger photo. Blaine’s laughter distracted him as the page loaded, and he looked up to see him grinning at something Sam had said or done.
“He looks like he’s always been here,” she said, pulling out her own phone.
“Oh.” The embroidery on the blue silk looked too amateur, even if the color would suit that Marc Jacobs shirt he had his eye on. Kurt thumbed back to the main list and kept scrolling. “Yes. I think he’s finding his place. Finn was giving him a hard time, but they’re over that.”
“That’s good. We all fight, but at the end of the day we’re a family.”
Kurt nodded and dismissed a white scarf with an abstract block-print. “He doesn’t hold grudges. Neither of them does.” He watched Blaine try another spin and then demonstrate it in slow motion for Finn. Sam mirrored the turn and added a few steps of his own. Kurt smiled a little at Mercedes. “I’m glad you’re back, too.”
She smiled in return and watched for the boys for a moment, too. “And why aren’t you out there dancing with your boyfriend?”
“He doesn’t need me,” Kurt said with a shrug. Blaine didn’t; he had a gift with people, after all. It was one of the things Kurt most admired about him, even if sometimes Blaine’s ability to fit in felt like overcompensation rather than mere friendliness. Kurt could understand that, too. He just didn’t share the trait.
“So? You can just want to be there, boo.”
He scrolled idly with his thumb. Maybe something in a wine color. “Does what they’re doing look like something I want to do?”
She snorted a laugh as the boys galumphed their way through a turn in unison and high-fived each other; Kurt caught the movements out of the corner of his eye. “No. They’re high on enthusiasm and low on polish.”
“Mercedes, you are not going to believe who tried to talk to me at lunch!” Sugar said as she bounced in and took the seat on Mercedes’ other side.
Kurt tuned her out, as difficult as it was with the shrillness of her voice, and focused back on his phone. He was looking for something really special to add to his winter wardrobe. He had plenty of warm and/or snow-themed items, but he kept feeling a gap for just the right scarf to fill out the season.
“Please tell me it isn’t Backstreet Boys week,” Santana said. Kurt glanced up to see her squeezing between Sam and Puck in their line to get to the risers, Brittany trailing behind. “Because the TroubleTones may have lost at Sectionals, but that would be the real tragedy.”
“We’re not doing a Backstreet Boys song,” Sam told her.
Santana rolled her eyes as she sat. “Yeah, sure, you sound like you’re above it, but I remember your obsession with Bieber, blondie.”
“I wasn’t obsessed - “
“So glad I missed that,” Kurt muttered to himself; the endless pop songs in the New Directions repertoire were bad enough because most didn’t have a lead part for him, but Bieber would have probably made his ears bleed.
There were a couple of interestingly shaped neck-warmers, and he tagged a few to come back to later. He wasn’t really looking for another knit, but he wasn’t against it if it could add something special.
He lingered over a silk scarf covered with hundreds of tiny skulls like macabre polka dots, but after blowing up the picture as far as he could on his phone he decided that it just wouldn’t stand up to his McQueens. Not all skulls were created equal.
“Wake me up before you go-go,” Blaine sang, and Kurt’s head snapped up in dismay. Blaine was lined up dancing with Finn, Sam, Mike, Puck, and Artie, and that was what they were practicing?
“Wham!? Really?” Kurt asked no one in particular. How was this is life? His boyfriend was singing ‘80s pop and getting the rest of the boys in Glee Club to follow his lead. He didn’t know whether he should be proud of Blaine for branching out from the current decade or fear New Directions turning into the second coming of the Warblers.
And yet Blaine still looked and sounded amazing. Kurt let out a slow breath as Blaine spun, his arms outflung, and happened to show off most of Kurt’s favorite parts of his body all at once: chest, shoulders, arms, back, waist, ass, legs... oh, hell, Kurt liked it all. Of course he did. Blaine was his boyfriend; as long as he wasn’t too obvious about it, he was allowed to like how Blaine looked.
“Be more gay, Anderson, I dare you,” Santana called.
Blaine, for his part, ignored her and focused on the steps with Mike, but Puck called back, “Seem to remember something about you and girls, Santana?”
She tossed her hair, crossed her legs, and said, “Bite me.”
“I thought you didn’t want guys to do to you that anymore,” Brittany said to her.
“Okay, everyone,” Rachel said, walking into the room at full speed, “although I know we beat out our competition at Sectionals - welcome back, ladies - it wouldn’t do to let the holiday season nearly upon us get in the way of us focusing on what’s really important: Regionals. Now, I don’t know what Mr. Schuester has in mind, but I was thinking if we started to focus on our set list now, then - ”
“That’s easy,” Santana said. “One song by Mr. Bow Tie to get all the girls’ panties wet, one by you and the giant doughboy to make everyone gag with your deep and true love, and one by Mercedes and me to bring the house down. There, our set list is done.” She brushed her hands off.
There were so many voices raised in outcry that Kurt couldn’t tell them apart. He counted to five, checked to make sure that Blaine looked more amused than upset, and went back to the pictures on his phone. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the set list for Regionals, because obviously he was going to fight for the solo he deserved, but he knew without a doubt that nothing anyone said today would have any impact on the actual list of songs for the competition months away.
Meanwhile, his wardrobe wouldn’t expand itself.
“Come on, guys,” Mr. Schuester said from the doorway. “I know we’ve all got a lot on our plates right now with exams coming up, but let’s not take it out on each other.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Rachel said. “In fact - “
Mr. Schuester cut her off. “Why don’t you all take a seat?”
Blaine came up onto the risers and took the seat in front of Kurt, smiling over his shoulder as he sat. Kurt smiled back and leaned back for a better - and by better he meant slightly more distant - view of what was sure to be more arguing. It seemed kind of pointless, if he were honest with himself. He’d been fighting so long for solos and recognition, and the months left in which he could achieve his goals were dwindling. There was only so much time. People were only going to change their perceptions and opinions so far. He wasn’t going to give up, but he was realizing that all of the fighting, all of the posturing and drama, wasn’t going to change much of anything.
That wasn’t quite right, because things had changed for Blaine, Kurt realized. He was finding a new place as a leader of New Directions. He was going to succeed here in a way that Kurt was not. The thought didn’t even really twinge. It just was what it was. He wasn’t Blaine. Blaine wasn’t him. They had a different history in the school and with these people. They certainly had different goals with them. Blaine wanted to be everyone’s friend; at this point Kurt was as close to them as he was going to get.
It made sense, of course. It wasn’t just their personalities. Blaine would be there for another year. These would be the people to sustain him once Kurt graduated.
As Mr. Schuester opened the floor to suggestions for a way to celebrate the return of former members through song and Santana immediately objected to the whole idea, Kurt went back to scrolling through the scarves on his phone. Red and white clock hands and gears, crisp white with narrow violet pinstripes, grey and brown leaves on an army green background.
Actually, Kurt realized as he blew up the picture, those weren’t leaves. They were blades of helicopter, some blurred like they were spinning, others still and perfect like a fan. That made the color of the scarf make sense, and Kurt’s mind turned from a camouflage-themed outfit (so last year) to one more severe. Dark jeans, heavy boots, a structured, military-inspired jacket in a steely grey, the perfect pin, a white shirt beneath (perhaps the new Moschino he’d just picked up for a steal), and the scarf tied as an ascot. Simple, subtle, and clever.
He smiled to himself as he considered the pattern. It was so evocative once you knew what it was. He could almost hear the thrum of the blades in the air, feel the wind they kicked off in his hair, feel himself lifting off of the ground, his stomach dropping to his feet as he rose into the...
Startled, Kurt looked up at Mr. Schuester, who was clearly waiting for him to be paying attention. Blaine and a few of the others were also turned in their chairs toward him.
“Yes,” he said, tagging the scarf with a tap of his finger before dropping his phone in his bag. He’d buy it later, as soon as the rehearsal was over.
Kurt took a deep breath, forced a pleasant look onto his face, and focused on his teacher. “Yes, I’m here.”