They were parked outside of Kurt’s house when Blaine said, “I think we should break up.”
For a good ten seconds it was dead silent, save for the rain drumming hard against the windshield, the soft flap-flap of the wipers. Blaine kept his hands taut on the steering wheel. He could feel Kurt staring at him.
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Kurt finally sputtered.
“You’re going to New York,” he said, and even though he’d recited this in his head more times than he could count, his voice wasn’t as steady as he wanted it to be. He wanted to sound reasonable. “You’re going to New York, and I’m not. We have to stop pretending that’s not happening—”
“Where is this coming from?” Kurt said. “Who is pretending? We’ve discussed this a million times—”
“No we haven’t. Not realistically.” Now he turned to meet Kurt’s eyes. And held them. “Everything is going to be different. You’re going to have this whole new life, Kurt. There’ll be so many things you’ll be doing and new people you’ll be meeting. And I’m so proud of you, and so excited for you, but I know… I know I won’t be part of that. I can’t be, not when I’m stuck here.”
“We can do long distance,” Kurt insisted. His eyes were too bright in the dim light of the car. “We live in the twenty-first century, Blaine. This is why we have modern technology!” He was hitting full speed now, gearing up, frantic. “We can call every night, and there’s texting and email and Facebook and Skype dates. I mean, Wolf Blitzer did that whole hologram thing with Will.I.Am and you know it’s only a matter of time before Apple makes an app for that. It won’t be ideal, but it’s only for a year. That’s nothing! People do it all the time!”
“What happens if I don’t get into any New York schools next year?”
“Of course you will.”
“We don’t know that,” Blaine said. “Things could happen, and I don’t—I don’t want to tie you down. I don’t want to keep you from doing anything. New York isn’t Lima. There are going to be guys—”
Kurt snorted, derisive. “Doubtful.”
“Don’t give me that. You’re gorgeous, and amazing, and—”
“And it doesn’t matter, because I don’t want anyone else,” Kurt cut in fiercely. “I love you, Blaine.”
“I love you, too.”
“Do you?” Kurt snapped, sounding on the verge of tears. “I’m pretty sure if you did, you wouldn’t be saying this. You don’t even want to try.”
Blaine reached across the space between them and grabbed Kurt’s hand. Kurt, thankfully, did not shake him off, even though he still stared daggers behind shining eyes.
“I didn’t know I could love anything the way I love you,” he said. It was the truth, and it was wonderful and painful and frightening all at the same time. A razor-barbed lump formed in his throat, making his eyes prick and burn. “Kurt, what we have… it’s amazing. More than amazing. Thinking about that ending badly while you’re six hundred miles away, or us just drifting apart—”
“But we won’t—”
“We could. And it’d be even worse than—” Blaine had to stop and swallow for a moment. The words felt stuck in his throat. “It’d be even worse than ending it now, while at least we don’t resent each other.”
“I can’t believe you,” Kurt said. He ripped his hand out of Blaine’s grip like he’d been scalded. “You’ve had this decided for a while now, haven’t you? How long ago did you memorize this little speech? Did you make up your mind before prom? Couldn’t wait until after Nationals to let me down easy?”
His voice kept rising and rising until he was shouting, and if Blaine had thought his heart was breaking before, it was nothing compared to the bright jolt of pain that hit him at the sight of Kurt’s face, accusing and betrayed.
“It’s not like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to tell you how I feel—”
“You’re breaking up with me!” Kurt exploded.
“I’m doing it because you won’t!” he shouted right back. Kurt actually recoiled a little, apparently not expecting to be matched in volume, but now that he’d started, Blaine couldn’t make himself stop. “I know you, Kurt. You’ll let this drag out until you end up hating me for it. I know you will.”
It was an awful feeling, being plunged into a sudden quiet and stillness after all the yelling. The air in the car practically vibrated with the tension between them. Blaine’s mouth was bone dry, his stomach roiling. This was all playing out so much worse than he’d allowed himself to imagine.
“You don’t know me as well as you think you do,” Kurt said lowly, with the sort of finality he used whenever they fought and he was preparing to stalk out of the room. “If you did, you’d know I would never let that happen.”
He tore off his seatbelt and barreled out of the car in one fluid motion, slamming the door shut so hard the whole car rattled. Blaine watched through the window as Kurt dashed up the driveway, through the pouring rain, and disappeared into the front door.
He didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t this.
There was pretty much no worse feeling in the world than having Kurt mad at him. The truth was that Blaine wasn’t great at dealing with people being angry with him in general. He’d never been one of those people who could walk around not caring at all what anyone thought of them—he’d always wished he could be. It’d make life a lot easier, but he just wasn’t built that way. The knowledge that some people out there hated him just for being who he was, without knowing anything about him, had always been hard for him to handle whenever he was confronted with it. It drove him a little crazy to think he couldn’t win everyone in the world over, or at least have the opportunity to try.
Blaine just liked being liked, maybe— probably— too much. Whenever someone was unhappy with him, it was like there was this jagged, painful knot in his stomach, and it didn’t go away until things had smoothed over. He’d had one of those knots ever since he came out to his dad, though over the years it faded to a dull ache that only twinged every once in a while, as if it’d tied itself up so tight it became smaller and smaller and sank deep inside him, to the very bottom.
The knot he had now was sharp and so big it was like there was no room for anything else. Because Blaine maybe cared more than he should about being liked, but there was no one he cared more about when it came to that than Kurt. There was no one he cared more about than Kurt, period. He felt like such an idiot. Kurt was furious with him, of course he was, how did Blaine not see that one coming? He should have, but he’d somehow talked himself into believing this would fly over even remotely well, that Kurt would see his side of things, that maybe he’d even thought of the same himself but felt too guilty to bring it up first, so it was a good thing, magnanimous really, for Blaine to give him the out.
He drove home and went straight to his bedroom and called Kurt first thing, hoping maybe he’d cooled off enough to want to talk, but Kurt didn’t pick up. He lay on his bed and stared at the glowing numbers of his alarm clock until an hour had passed, and then tried again. Still no answer. He didn’t leave a voicemail or send any texts because he wasn’t sure what to say; part of him wanted to take it all back if that’s what would make things right again, and the other part of him—the part of him that’d been thinking about this ever since the thick NYADA acceptance packet arrived in Kurt’s mailbox— told him to stick to his guns, because it was the right thing to do, and the right thing wasn’t always easy but it was still right.
Even if it didn’t really feel that way now.
In the morning he woke up to his blaring alarm, still curled up on top of the comforter with his phone in hand, feeling groggy and out of sorts. He took a too-long shower, the water turned hotter than usual, in hopes it would wake him up; it didn’t work. All it did was leave him little time to make himself presentable and none at all to stop at the Lima Bean for his daily caffeine fix, and he only made it to his locker with five minutes before the first tardy bell.
He was on his third attempt at remembering his combination when he noticed Rachel swerving around people in the hallway, pinballing towards him in a flash of shiny hair and white teeth.
She took one look at him and said, “Blaine, are you sick? You better not be sick. Nationals is in a week, and we need to be in top form—”
“I’m not sick,” he said. The lock popped open, and he rummaged for his chemistry textbook, sticking his head inside to avoid her scrutiny.
That didn’t derail her, of course. Nothing ever did when Rachel Berry was on a mission. “You look like you’re sick,” she said. “Do you want some Airborne? I’ve been on a strict regimen of three doses a day for the past two months. My immune system is like Fort Knox. I carry it on me, I can lend you some right now—”
“Rachel, I’m fine. Really,” he assured her. “I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep that great.” He didn’t want to think about how rundown he must look if Rachel was staring at him like he’d caught some kind of plague. In an effort to change the subject, he asked, “Have you seen Kurt today?”
Kurt hadn’t called him back, or texted, or anything. It was too early to be sure if he was avoiding Blaine on purpose, but Blaine figured chances were that was exactly the case.
Rachel blinked a few times. “No, not yet,” she said. “Oh, but if you see him first, can you tell him rehearsal’s extended for another hour after school? I talked to Mr. Schue, and we agreed we need to double down this week. I know with finals and— for some of us— graduation coming up, we’re all busy, but Nationals has to be everyone’s top priority. We all have to eat, sleep, and breathe glee. Did you know the week before Bernadette Peters debuted as Annie Oakley on Broadway, she rehearsed for seventy-two hours straight and almost ODed on Throat Coat on opening night? That is the kind of commitment we need if we’re going to win!”
Clearly Rachel had already prioritized glee club over breathing, since she’d gotten all of that out at rapid fire speed without ever once taking a breath. It was pretty impressive.
Blaine nodded and said, “Okay,” but the word was barely out of his mouth before she’d swept past him, already moving on.
Five seconds later, the tardy bell rang.
He closed his locker and leaned his forehead against it. It was going to be a long day.
Kurt was definitely avoiding him. Blaine figured this out through his masterful skills of deduction, and also because Tina flat out told him so.
She cornered him before pre-calc at the pencil sharpener. “I can’t believe you broke up with Kurt!” she hissed loudly.
Blaine hadn’t seen her come up from behind and jumped so high he nearly snapped his pencil in half at the sound of her voice. When he turned around, she was pinning him down with a powerful glare, wielding her textbook like she might thwack him over the head with it at any given moment. It was sort of intimidating, and also weird because he couldn’t remember ever seeing her look so angry at anyone.
He winced. “I take it you talked to him?”
“Yes,” she said, “and he told me everything. I can’t believe you!”
“How is he? I wanted to talk to him, but I think he’s avoiding me—”
“Of course he’s avoiding you. He’s really upset, Blaine,” she said. “He doesn’t understand it at all, and I don’t either. How could you do this to him?”
“It’s complicated,” he said weakly, and it was a crappy non-answer, but it was already difficult enough to try and explain when he wasn’t literally backed against a wall. He sighed. “You should know how it is—you and Mike are dealing with the same thing, right?”
Her eyes softened at that, like maybe he’d struck a chord with her there, but before she could respond with whatever she was thinking, Mrs. Denison strode to the front of the room and ordered everyone to their seats. Blaine had never scrambled to sit down so fast in his life.
Kurt couldn’t avoid him forever, of course, not when there was glee club. Blaine needed to talk to him, but he didn’t want to do it in front of an audience; he’d been around long enough to see how couple arguments during practice played out, and it was never good. After the last bell rang, he half-jogged down the hall to the choir room early, hoping to catch Kurt alone, but Mr. Schuester was already there sorting through sheet music and muttering to himself. Soon everyone else came filtering in— everyone except for Kurt.
Blaine took the seat next to Mike, because he figured that was his safest option. Partly because the seat was on the opposite side of the room from where Kurt typically sat, and partly because Mike was unconditionally nice to everyone. Mike was neutral. Mike was the Switzerland of glee club.
Mike smiled at him when he sat down, friendly if somewhat confused, and Blaine smiled back—the best he could, anyway—and that was the exact moment Kurt chose to walk into the choir room. Mercedes had her arm linked through his, Sam trailing close behind them. Blaine thought Sam probably didn’t hate him, but it’s not like his loyalty to Mercedes was ever in question, and so by extension he must’ve automatically picked a side.
Everyone had to know by now, but no one said anything, not even Santana. Of course, that might’ve been because all of her attention seemed to be focused on fighting with Rachel over the set list for Nationals. He tuned out their bickering and instead snuck glances in Kurt’s general direction, hoping to catch his eye. But every time he looked, Kurt was faced away from him, head bent close to Mercedes’s as he spoke to her, either having a very engrossing conversation or hell-bent on ignoring Blaine’s existence.
When he tore his gaze back to the front, he could tell something was about to go down. Santana was taking out her earrings and handing them off to Brittany while Rachel stood with her hands on her hips, arguing the merits of singing Barbra versus Winehouse, though Blaine had no idea how anyone could compare the two. He would’ve offered to hold Rachel’s earrings, but she wasn’t wearing any. Mostly though he hoped Mr. Schuester would intervene before things escalated any further.
“Guys, guys, settle down,” Mr. Schuester said, waiting, as usual, until Santana had stepped up into Rachel’s face before breaking it up. He put a hand on Santana’s shoulder and nudged her back to her seat. “Let’s forget about the set list for a minute. I need to hand out the permission slips.”
Nationals was being held in Chicago this year— close enough for them to take the train instead of flying, but a big enough city to add some excitement, even if it wasn’t quite as epic as New York. Blaine had been looking forward to it; he and Kurt had done some online research, talked about hitting up the shops in Wicker Park and riding the water taxi, but those plans probably weren’t going to work if Kurt wouldn’t so much as make eye contact.
He got his first chance to talk to Kurt after rehearsal let out. Everyone else had pretty much bolted from the room, exhausted from two hours of running through new choreography Mike was teaching them all, but Kurt took his time, folding a sweater and tucking it into his bag. Blaine steeled his shoulders and took a deep breath as he approached. There was no easy way to have this conversation, but it needed to be done.
“Hey,” he started when they were finally alone.
Kurt slipped the strap of his bag over his shoulder and straightened, regarding Blaine with a guarded look. “Hi,” he said stiffly.
“You really picked up the combination fast,” Blaine offered. Yes, he was resorting to compliments in hopes of softening Kurt up for this talk. Yes, it was a little pathetic. He didn’t care. “You’ve gotten really good. I mean, not that you weren’t already—”
“Yes, well, somehow Mike has exorcised the shimmy out of me this year,” Kurt replied, studying the tops of his shoes as if they were the most riveting thing in the room. They did have rhinestones glued over the toes, so maybe they were. When he finally drew up his gaze to look at Blaine, Blaine almost he wished he hadn’t; he looked so distant. “Did you want something?”
“I feel bad about last night,” he said. “I’m sorry. That’s not how I wanted things to go.”
One eyebrow arched, but the rest of Kurt’s face stayed the same. “How, exactly, did you want it to go?”
“Differently. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
“Oh?” Kurt said. Something in his expression changed. Opening. Blaine wanted to grab on to that opening and stretch it until this impassive mask of his was torn away.
“You were right, it is something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” he said all in a rush, “and it wasn’t fair to just spring it on you like that. I should’ve brought it up earlier—”
And just like that Kurt’s face closed off again.
“Earlier?” he echoed. “So you really do feel that way. You do want to break up with me.”
“No, what I’m doing is trying to look at the bigger picture here and be realistic—”
“Stop using that word! Stop acting like I’m some hopeless idiot for thinking we could be together—”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t think you’re an idiot—”
“I’m sorry I was silly enough to believe I mattered enough to you to want to try,” Kurt said, blinking rapidly in that way Blaine knew meant he was on the brink of tears.
“You matter to me.” Blaine went to grasp Kurt’s hands, but Kurt stepped back, out of reach. He let his arms fall uselessly to his sides. “You matter to me,” he insisted. “More than anything. You know that. It’s why I don’t want to stand in your way. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”
“Then don’t,” Kurt said brokenly. A solitary tear slipped out, and Blaine couldn’t help but lean in, brush it away with his thumb. Kurt didn’t stop him.
He let his hand linger on Kurt’s cheek. “It’s not that simple.”
Kurt blinked, and as if on cue, his eyes went dry. Blaine could see it happening, Kurt shutting him out as he took on the body language of a brick wall. “Then I guess we have nothing more to talk about,” he replied, and pushed past Blaine, headed for the door.
Blaine stared after him, panic rising in his chest. Watching Kurt go felt like sand slipping through his fingers.
“Kurt,” he said, plaintive, but Kurt walked off like he hadn’t heard. Didn’t even look back.
There was more to talk about, but clearly he was beyond listening.
Everyone had an opinion.
Santana said, “So I heard you broke it off with Hummel. Too bad. You two were my favorite lesbian couple.”
Artie said, “I’ve been there, my friend. Actually, I’ve always been the dumpee, so… not really. But yo, if you need a wingman for a rebound, hit me up. I’m down for that.”
Quinn said, “Well, I think you made the right decision. Trying to hold on to high school like it’s the end all, be all is a bad idea. Trust me, I know.”
Brittany gave him a piece of paper; on it was a drawing of a unicorn with black triangular eyebrows and a bowtie, standing under a rainbow. “Lord Tubbington wanted me to give this to you,” she said solemnly. “I’d be mad at you for what you did to Kurt, but you’re a unicorn too, and unicorns are supposed to stick together. It’s the unicorn code. You can look it up in the handbook.”
Mike just patted him on the shoulder and gave him a lot of sympathetic looks.
“I fully understand the heartbreak that comes with losing your soul mate, but as I told Kurt, I hope you’ll take my advice and channel that anguish into your performance,” Rachel told him. “Why let so much intense emotion go to waste?”
Except Blaine wasn’t feeling anything intensely. He just felt numb. And miserable. It sucked not seeing Kurt in all the places he’d gotten used to seeing him, meeting at lockers and Lima Bean dates. It sucked when he did see Kurt, glimpses of him in the hall, sitting across the choir room, watching him sing, knowing there was this distance between them.
Everything just sucked, all of the time.
The only one who didn’t have anything to say was Finn. At first Blaine assumed he was getting the same silent treatment Mercedes was currently subjecting him to, but that wasn’t it; Finn still looked at him, and still talked to him, just not about Kurt.
At least, not until the day before they left for Nationals. It started when ten minutes into rehearsal, Kurt rose from his seat and said, “Mr. Schue, if I may?” and moved to stand at the front of the room. He nodded curtly to Brad, and the piano began to play, and then he was singing. It was Still Hurting from The Last Five Years—a song about heartbreak, lost love. Kurt did what Kurt did best, infusing all of his emotion into it, laying his heart bare, and he directed it all at Blaine.
It was the most Kurt had looked at him all week. Blaine could see everything written on his face, hear it in his voice, and being on the receiving end of it was almost too much to bear. He sat rooted to his seat, unable to look away, even as Kurt’s voice penetrated through the miserable fog he’d been drifting through like a knife twisting in his heart. He understood why they called it heartbreak; it was like something inside his chest had snapped and cracked into pieces.
Kurt’s voice shook slightly on the last note, and when he was finished, he just stood there, looking spent with emotion. No one reacted immediately, as if stunned into silence.
Finally Mr. Schuester cleared his throat awkwardly and said, “That was… very emotional, Kurt. Thank you for sharing it with us.”
Blaine could feel his hands trembling from where they clutched the sides of his chair. He could feel people’s eyes on him. And Kurt’s.
Suddenly he just couldn’t be there a second longer. He didn’t think about it. He just left. He wasn’t sure if anyone called after him, and it didn’t matter because he didn’t care anyway, he had to leave. He had to go be somewhere else.
He made it halfway to his locker before it hit him. Literally. In the face. A cherry-flavored slushie, so painfully cold it stung his skin. He was too busy sputtering and blinking it out of his eyes to see who’d done it, but the guffaws echoing off the lockers behind him seemed to belong to the usual suspects, those brain-dead morons from the hockey team.
Blaine hadn’t recovered enough from the icy shock to move when he heard a familiar voice say, “C’mon,” a firm but gentle hand steering him toward the bathroom.
It was Finn, guiding him to the sinks and turning on the tap. He cranked out some paper towel from the dispenser, folded it, and handed it to Blaine wordlessly.
“Thanks,” Blaine said. He bent his head down and splashed warm water on his face, and when he glanced up, he met Finn’s eyes in the mirror. “Look, I’m okay. It was just your standard issue slushie. It’s not like I’m going to have to go the hospital again or anything, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”
Finn fixed him with a strange look. “Why wouldn’t I want to?”
Did he really have to spell it out? Apparently so, because Finn kept staring, brow furrowed.
“I just figured you can’t be too happy with me right now,” he went on. “After everything with Kurt…”
“I don’t really want to get in the middle of that, dude,” Finn said with a shrug. “He’s my brother, you’re my friend…”
And it was true; they were friends. Somewhere along the way Finn had become more to Blaine than just his boyfriend’s stepbrother. It was funny to think of how much could change in a year.
“Besides,” Finn said, “I know you’re probably getting enough grief from everyone else. You don’t wanna hear what I think.”
Weirdly, despite all of the unsolicited—and unwanted— commentary from bystanders Blaine had endured all week, he really did want to know.
“Actually I kind of do,” he said.
Finn leaned his back against one of the sinks, arms folded over his chest. “When Rachel and I got back together last year, we agreed it’d only be until graduation,” he said. “I always knew after high school she’d be going to New York and I wouldn’t. And it’s taken me awhile, but I’m okay with that. That’s who she’s meant to be, and I’m meant to be someone else, and it’s not better or worse, it’s just how it is. I can’t hold her down. It’d be selfish of me to even try, because her life is gonna be a lot bigger than this town and a lot bigger than me. Being with someone as special as Rachel means knowing you’ll have to share her with the world. Otherwise I’m just being greedy.”
There was no resentment or bitterness in Finn’s voice, or even resignation. Just thoughtfulness, and maybe a touch of pride.
“Like, I know it’s different with you and Kurt,” he continued, looking Blaine in the eye now. “You’re more like he is. You want the same things. But I don’t think he and Rachel really get what it’s like for us. How it feels to be the one left behind.”
Blaine swallowed. “I’m just trying to do the right thing for him.”
“No, man, I think it’s more than that,” Finn said. “I think you’re trying to protect yourself too.”
Blaine ducked his head as he patted his face dry with the paper towel. Some of the slushie had trickled under his shirt collar, already drying on his skin in sticky patches. If Finn was right about that, it meant the unselfish choice was actually a selfish one. It meant no matter what he did or didn’t do, it was going to hurt.
“Love really sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?” he said, mostly speaking to himself, but Finn grinned at him, understanding.
“Yup,” he agreed. “Hey, I’ve got an extra shirt in my gym locker. Want me to go get it for you?”
He shook his head. Anything of Finn’s would go down to his knees, anyway. “No thanks,” he said. “Do you think Rachel would kill me if I skipped out on the rest of rehearsal and went home?”
“Nah, go ahead. I’ll take care of Rachel,” Finn assured him. He clapped Blaine on the shoulder. “Just come ready tomorrow. I’m counting on you to bring it at Nationals.”
“I will,” he promised. “We aren’t coming back without that trophy.”
The show would go on, the way it always did. Maybe there was no way to win with Kurt, but at least he could help them win this.
It was only a six hour train ride from Lima to Chicago, and it went a lot faster since they’d left so early in the morning that everyone just wanted to sleep the whole way. Less than half an hour after the train had rolled off from the station, Sam passed out with his face planted in the middle of the comic book he’d spread out on the tray table. Blaine didn’t mind; at least he wasn’t snoring.
He rested his head against the window, watching the scenery whizz by in dull browns and greys and greens, and it seemed like he’d only closed his eyes for a minute before they were pulling into Union Station. Next to him Sam roused, sitting up and wiping off the drool he’d left on the page of his issue of Nightwing with the cuff of his letterman jacket. Blaine tucked the copy of Vogue he’d been leafing through before he fell asleep into the bag at his feet and shuffled off the train with everyone else.
Mr. Schuester and Ms. Pillsbury shepherded everyone from the platform and through the concourse, until they’d all gathered in the main hall. As they counted heads, Ms. Pillsbury marking names off on a clipboard, Blaine yawned and looked around. Everyone looked a little disheveled and sleepy from the travel, except for Rachel, who was fluttering around excitedly.
He looked over at where Kurt sat on one of the long wooden benches with Mercedes and Quinn, one hand on the handle of his luggage and the other gesticulating as he spoke. For a moment they locked eyes. Kurt seemed to freeze mid-sentence, but then he looked away hastily. Blaine’s stomach churned.
An elbow in his side snapped him out of it.
“Do you have any ideas?” Mike asked.
Blaine blinked. “Ideas for what?”
“We were just saying, we need to show Rory the finest in American cuisine before they ship him back to Leprechaun Land,” Puck explained.
“Oh, Brittany’s family already took me to McDonald’s,” Rory said cheerfully. “The golden nuggets of chicken were delicious.”
“What? No, dude, that’s not real food!” Puck protested.
“Yeah, what we need is to find some prime Chicago pizza,” Sam said. “That’s what this city is famous for.”
“That and Al Capone,” Artie added as Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury led them outside to Clinton street.
Rory leaned against one of the columns and looked around, disappointed. “I thought Chicago was supposed to be famous for its wind, but there’s not even a breeze.”
They wound up splitting into cabs to take to the hotel, and somehow in the ensuing chaos Blaine found himself sandwiched between Sugar and Kurt. He wasn’t even trying, honestly, but there was no room, and he ended up half in Kurt’s lap. When Kurt realized where he was stuck, his face registered some mild panic, but then he closed his mouth in a tight line and turned his head to stare stubbornly out the window.
Between that and Sugar oversharing on Rory’s embarrassing seduction attempts, it was the most uncomfortable cab ride of Blaine’s life. Not that he’d ridden in taxis all that often, but still. It was enough awkward to last him a lifetime.
At the hotel, Mr. Schuester signed them in and doled out room keys. “Boys in one room, girls in the other,” he announced, and then stopped when his eyes landed on Kurt and Blaine. Suddenly he looked uncertain. “Um…”
“I’ll room with the girls,” Kurt volunteered immediately.
Mr. Schuester nodded, visibly relieved not to have to solve this one on his own. “All right then,” he said, clasping his hands together. “Before you all go up, let’s go over the ground rules first.”
The ground rules involved, among other things, no underage drinking, no breaking and entering, no destroying hotel property, no going out alone, and no excessive ordering off the room service menu or taking absolutely anything out of the mini bars. Mr. Schuester leveled a stern look at Puck when he rattled off that last one, and it made Blaine wonder what exactly had happened when New Directions went to New York last year.
They trudged up to the rooms, and Blaine collapsed on the nearest bed, not planning to move for at least the next five hours. All the other guys weren’t even bothering to unpack, instead just taking a few minutes to change and piss (with the door open; sometimes Blaine forgot how gross teenage boys could be).
“You coming, Blaine?” Mike asked.
He shook his head. “I think I’m just going to hang out here. Get some sleep.”
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon,” Sam pointed out. “I don’t even get why you’re so bummed out. You’re the one who broke it off, right?”
“Yeah, man,” Puck chimed in. “Enough of the moping. When Zizes dumped my ass, you know what was the first thing I did? Went to Lowe’s, hung around until some chicks came in on their own, helped them pick out power tools, and used their gratitude over having a man in their lives who cared to get laid. Hardware stores are total cougar bait.”
“That’s not actually true,” Finn said. “The first thing you did was get drunk and leave me, like, ten voicemails crying about how Lauren Zizes was your soul mate and you’d never love again.”
“Shut up, Finn!” snapped Puck, kicking him in the shin. “I’m trying to make a point here!”
“That’s fascinating and all, Puck,” Blaine said, “but I don’t think it’s relevant to my situation.”
“Dude, there’s gotta be way more gay guys in Chicago than Lima,” Puck pressed. “I bet you could find someone to bang the sad out of you in ten minutes.”
“Puckerman’s got a point. You might want to take advantage and get your swerve on while you can,” Artie said.
“Lay off, you guys,” Finn said. He looked increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation, but Blaine didn’t think it was about the gay sex topic so much as the sex-life-of-the-guy-who-dated-his-brother thing. “Blaine, I can hang here with you if you don’t want to go out.”
It was sweet of Finn to offer, even if it was obvious he didn’t really want to stay behind. That was okay; Blaine didn’t want the company anyway. He really did just plan on switching on the television until he fell asleep. Nothing he needed anyone else around for.
“No, seriously, it’s fine,” he insisted. “I’ll see you guys later.”
None of them wasted time making any more attempts to convince him after that. When they left, Mike was the last one out, and he gave Blaine a long look over his shoulder before he shut the door behind him. And then Blaine was alone.
He stretched out on the bed, tucking a pillow under his chest, and flipped through the channels on the tv until he landed at the start of a Golden Girls rerun, which was great because he got to sing along to the theme song. It was a good episode, too, the one where Blanche wins tickets to a movie premiere party with Burt Reynolds.
The girls had just gotten mistaken for prostitutes when there was a knock at the door. Blaine muted it and padded to the door, assuming it’d be one of the guys realizing they’d left their room key by accident or maybe Mr. Schuester checking in, but instead he opened it to see Tina standing there.
“Hi,” she said, smiling. She had on a dark red dress over black tights, purse slung over one shoulder like she was all ready for a night on the town.
“Hey Tina,” he said. “Were you looking for Mike? He left a little while ago—”
“No, I’m here for you,” she said. Blaine raised his eyebrows, and she grinned wider. “I have standing orders from Mike to get you out of this hotel room by any means necessary.”
He should’ve known Mike was up to something. It was always the quiet ones.
“That’s nice of you, but you don’t have to do that,” he told her. “I kind of wanted some alone time.”
She peered around him into the room. “You’re watching The Golden Girls?”
“It’s a great show,” he said defensively.
“That’s not the point, Blaine,” she said. “You can watch it anytime you want. We’re in Chicago. You should be out enjoying yourself like everybody else.”
“I’m not really in the mood.”
“Look, Kurt and the girls already took off shopping, and Mr. Schue said we can’t go anywhere alone, so if you don’t agree to go with me, I’m stuck here too,” she said. “Come out with me. I promise I’m not going to give you a hard time about Kurt or anything. I won’t even mention his name. We’ll just go out, do something fun, and have a good time.” She grabbed his arm and tugged. “Please?”
She stuck out her lower lip in a pout, swinging his arm back and forth, and Blaine couldn’t resist.
“All right, fine,” he agreed, and she beamed so brightly in return he figured it had to be worth it. “Give me five minutes.”
They took the red line to Grand Avenue and walked to the Navy Pier—it was a mile away from the stop and they had to ask for directions twice to be sure they were going the right way, but Blaine didn’t really mind. It only took ten minutes of being outside for him to be grateful Tina had successfully cajoled him into leaving the hotel. It felt nice to be out here, walking the city streets, taking in the buildings and the people. Better than being cooped up in a hotel room.
Tina looped her arm through his and kept him tucked close to her side as they strolled down the boardwalk. That was nice too.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” she asked after they’d stopped at a popcorn stand and went to sit on a bench by the water.
Blaine shrugged. “No, not really.”
It’d been a long time since he’d gotten nerves before a performance. Maybe that made him sound cocky. Maybe he was, a little. In any case, the thought of being onstage, in front of a crowd, only made him feel itchy with anticipation. When he performed, it was like stepping outside of himself and being someone else for a little while. Everything else fell away.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” he added. “Everyone’s worked hard. We’re ready for this. I’m excited.”
“It’s a little sad though, isn’t it?” Tina said. “Our last competition all together. It’s going to be weird next year without Finn and Rachel and Mercedes and—” She stopped, catching herself. “…everyone else.”
He gave a noncommittal hum and looked past her, out across the water where the skyline jutted into a blue sky. The last thing he wanted to do was think about what it would be like at McKinley next year without Kurt. Every time he tried to imagine it, it just felt… wrong.
Tina looked at him, but she didn’t ask what he was thinking. She probably could already tell. He couldn’t decide if that was better or worse than her having to ask.
She reached into her greasy paper bag, tossed a piece of popcorn into the air and caught it on her tongue. Then she leapt off the bench to her feet and pulled him up with her. “Come on,” she said, “I want to go on the Ferris wheel.”
They rode the Ferris wheel twice, ate dinner at a place called Harry Caray’s, and thought about taking one of the boat tours but vetoed it after seeing the ticket prices. Instead they doubled back to the front of the park and browsed some souvenir shops along the way; apparently Tina’s mom was, like, obsessed with collecting snow globes and had demanded Tina return with one. Thankfully there was a whole row of them in the fourth place they stopped. Blaine picked them up and shook them one by one while Tina tried to decide which her mother would like best.
He didn’t plan on buying anything for himself, but on the way to the register he caught sight of a rack of blindingly bright yellow bowties with little red Ferris wheels printed all over the fabric. Exactly his style.
The bow tie ended up being what broke the silence between him and Kurt. Well, sort of. What really happened was when he and Tina came back to the hotel (via taxi this time; Blaine had felt very grown up hailing one on his own), Kurt and the girls were waiting in the lobby for the elevator, arms laden with shopping bags. Tina immediately flocked to Mercedes and Sugar to examine their purchases, and Blaine stood a little outside of the circle, staring at the ceiling so he wouldn’t have to look at Kurt not looking at him.
The elevator doors opened up, and he stepped inside first. And then just as they were about to close, all of the girls scurried back out.
“Quinn forgot she wanted to swing by the gift shop,” Mercedes explained over her shoulder. She had that glib look on her face that meant she was lying through her teeth. “We’ll see you guys later!”
Before either of them could dive out after the girls, the doors shut with a ding, leaving them there alone.
Kurt scowled at the closed doors. “They totally planned this.”
“Clearly,” Blaine said.
Kurt whipped around to face him. He looked prepared to say something cutting, but he just stared instead. Blaine wondered if Kurt was just going to look at him like that the whole ride, but then he said, “That’s a new bow tie, isn’t it?”
Blaine’s hands flew to his neck, and he straightened the bow tie a little nervously. Tina had put it on for him during the cab ride over. “Too much?” he asked.
“Yes,” Kurt said. “But you pull it off.”
He reached over and pushed the floor button, then took a step back. Now it was Blaine’s turn to stare.
“Does this mean you’re acknowledging my existence now?” he asked. He meant for the question to come off more lightheartedly than it did. Instead it came out a little accusatory.
Kurt looked at him, incredulous. “You’re joking, right? You’re the one who’s been avoiding me.”
“What are you talking about? I tried talking to you, and you all but told me to drop dead!”
“Well, I’m sorry if I needed one day to process the fact that you were breaking up with me. And then I sang you that song, and you ran out of the room!”
“What was I supposed to do? You were clearly too mad to want to talk to me!”
“Clearly I wouldn’t have been so mad if you just talked to me in the first place!”
They stopped, glaring at each other, and after a second Blaine felt himself deflate.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. He rubbed a hand across his forehead. “It’s my fault. I’m doing this all wrong.”
“Maybe you could start by telling me why you’re doing it at all,” Kurt said in a clipped voice.
“I think it just finally sank in. What it’ll be like next year,” Blaine tried to explain. “Don’t you think New York is going to change things for us?”
Kurt’s face faltered before he settled on an answer. “I guess I didn’t really think about it like that,” he said. “I just assumed… I thought maybe it didn’t have to.” He paused. “My dad agrees with you.”
“He does?” This knowledge left Blaine a little disappointed, even though he knew it shouldn’t.
“He said maybe it was the right idea, giving each other some space. That I’m going to be going through so many new adjustments that it might be better not to have the added responsibility of a long-distance boyfriend.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him I don’t consider our relationship a responsibility,” he said. He sighed. “But then I thought about it, and… it is, isn’t it? I do feel responsible for you. We’re responsible for each other.”
“I want to do the right thing,” Blaine said, a little desperately.
“So do I. Whatever that may end up being,” said Kurt. “I guess we agree on that much.”
Blaine started to reach out for him, but then drew his hand back, thinking better of it. He wasn’t sure if Kurt would be comfortable with that kind of gesture at this moment.
“So where does that leave us?” he asked.
The elevator pinged, the doors sliding open. They’d reached their floor.
Kurt stepped out into the carpeted hallway and turned around. “I don’t know,” he said simply. “I need to think about it.”
Apparently Jesse was still pretty mad about New Directions embarrassing themselves at Nationals last year and ruining his would-be show choir consultant career before it even had a chance to get off the ground. He’d lucked out with Vocal Adrenaline, who were so desperate for a replacement coach that they’d hired him despite his McKinley ties.
He definitely had something to prove and an axe to grind.
Jesse tracked them down in the lobby the morning of the competition, weaving through all the other gathered show choirs with the sharp-eyed intensity of a hawk zeroing in on its helpless prey.
“I thought I would come by to say, may the best show choir win,” he said. He looked down at them as if they were lucky to be breathing the same oxygen as him. “Which is of course Vocal Adrenaline. I look forward to your crushing defeat at my hands.”
“You can quit with the intimidation techniques, Jesse,” Rachel said with a flip of her hair. “We’re going to win, because New Directions has something Vocal Adrenaline never will.”
“A combined IQ score below one hundred?”
“No, we have heart,” she snapped. “We’ve put in the work this year, but what’s really going to give us the edge over your little army of performing robots is the fact that we actually care about what we’re singing.”
“Ah, yes, who needs technical proficiency or vocal prowess when you have that?” Jesse drawled dryly. “What’s the strategy this time? Is Finn going to hump your leg mid-performance like a homely Saint Bernard attempting to mount a Chihuahua?”
Finn’s face twisted with anger. He started forward, but Rachel stopped him with a hand to his chest.
“Don’t,” she said quietly. “He isn’t worth it.”
Jesse’s eyes flashed at that, but if he planned any retort, it was interrupted by Mr. Schuester stepping to the front and sticking out his hand.
“You’re right, Jesse. May the best show choir win,” he said civilly.
For a second Blaine wondered if Jesse was going to punch Mr. Schuester in the face, but instead his expression smoothed over and he shook Mr. Schuester’s hand firmly with his own.
“Good luck,” he said, then looked past Mr. Schuester to the rest of the group, gaze lingering. “You’re going to need it.”
After Jesse turned on his heel and stalked off, Puck elbowed Finn in the side and said, “Seriously dude, if you try groping Rachel in the middle of a song again and screw this up for all of us, I am going to kick your ass.”
“It wasn’t groping!” Rachel protested. “It was a beautiful, irrepressible expression of love in its purest form.” When everyone stared at her, she cleared her throat. “And it will not be happening again. Obviously.”
“Yeah, what she said,” Finn said, putting an arm over her shoulders. “Anyway, there’s no point in dwelling on the past. We’re here now, and we’re gonna win this thing.”
“Finn’s right, guys. We need to focus on today,” Mr. Schuester said. He clapped his hands together. “Let’s pull it in!”
So Mr. Schuester gave them his version of an inspiring pep talk—his usual stuff about believing in themselves and remembering how far they’d come and making it all count—and had them all form a circle and put their hands in. And maybe it was a little cheesy, but Blaine had to admit he really did enjoy it. It made them feel like a team, and it made him want more than ever to do well today, to come back to Lima with that first place trophy, knowing that for many of them this was their last shot. He wanted it for them just as much as he wanted it for himself.
Their set wasn’t until later in the day, so they all sat in the auditorium to watch their competitors. Blaine was pretty confident about their chances, but he had to admit the other choirs were good. Really good. It was like a never-ending blur of flash and tight choreography and strong voices. Sure, some groups were better than others, but even the weakest was still pretty great.
After a particularly impressive medley of Elton John songs performed by The Treblemakers from Duluth, Mercedes leaned over to him and muttered, “Damn, that was good.”
He glanced to his right where Puck was wiping his wet face off with his sleeve. It was the third time he’d cried over a performance in the past hour.
Blaine bent his head close to Mercedes. “It was,” he agreed, “but we’re better.”
He grinned at her, and she smiled back, patted the top of his hand with hers before returning her attention to the stage.
Intermission came, and they all gathered backstage; everyone else went to hang around the wings of the stage so they could watch the other choirs from behind the curtain, but Blaine found an empty corner in the green room, took the opportunity to stretch his limbs a little and do a few neck rolls.
He was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet and shaking out his arms when Kurt came charging up to him, eyes ablaze and determined.
“Kurt,” he said, stopping. “Did you—”
“I need to tell you something,” Kurt said, “and I need you to not say anything until I’m finished.”
Blaine obediently closed his mouth.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen after graduation. All I know is I have been miserable this past week without you,” he continued. “I was talking to Finn last night, and he said something—it was this whole metaphor comparing love to a sandwich, which I know sounds stupid, but— okay, it kind of was, but anyway, that’s not important. The point is, if us breaking up when I leave for New York, or at least… putting things on hold, is what’s best for us, then fine. That’s what we’ll do, and we can decide it together. But we still have the summer, and I don’t want to waste it. I want to spend every minute with you that I can until I can’t. I want to be with you while I’m here, and I don’t want to go out on that stage today without knowing whether or not you feel the same way.” He stopped, determination giving way to nervousness. “Okay, you can talk now.”
“Yes,” Blaine said immediately. “I want that too. Kurt, I want—”
Before he could finish the sentence, Kurt caught his face between his hands and cut him off with a kiss. Blaine returned it with equal vigor, hands grasping at the front of Kurt’s dress shirt to pull him in. It felt like a release, all of the tension he’d been carrying around sliding right off of his shoulders, and for a moment he didn’t care at all about the competition, just wanted to stay here and melt against Kurt for as long as possible. When he opened his mouth to deepen the kiss, Kurt made a happy, involuntary noise in the back of his throat and pressed in even closer.
They were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Kurt twisted around in Blaine’s arms to see everyone grouped behind them, staring.
“Dude,” Puck said, eloquent as ever.
Tina’s face lit up. “Does this mean you guys are back together?”
“Maybe they’re just practicing French,” Brittany said.
“Kurt, Blaine, we’re all very happy for you—” Rachel started.
“Speak for yourself, Berry,” Santana cut in. “I’m not. I don’t care.”
“—but I do hope this means you’ve resolved your romantic drama and will be able to focus solely on giving your best performance,” she finished.
“What Rachel means is, you’re not going to mack onstage, are you?” Puck asked.
“Let it go, Puck. No one is going to be kissing anyone out there,” Finn said. He eyed Kurt and Blaine, suddenly a little uncertain. “Um, right guys?”
Kurt took a step backward, out of Blaine’s reach, and Blaine had to fight down the urge to pull him back. He smoothed out the wrinkles from his shirt and patted the top of his coiffed-but-now-slightly-rumpled hair with a delicate sniff, not quite meeting anyone’s eyes.
“As much as I’d love to sit here and face the inquisition, let me remind you all we have a performance to put on,” he said coolly. “I’m going to go find a mirror and do some last minute retouching.”
“Yeah, I think we all know what you’ll be touching,” Santana smirked.
Kurt shot her a withering glare and quickly left the room, head held high.
Tina turned back to Blaine. “But seriously, are you two back together now? Because if so, Mike owes me ten bucks.”
He paused from his fruitless attempt at fixing his loosened tie to cast her a disbelieving look. “You had a bet going?” he asked. He glanced over at Mike, who at least had the decency to look sheepish. “Wait, does this mean you bet against us?”
“No, I just thought you’d wait until after Nationals,” Mike said with a shrug.
“Speaking of, we got about five minutes before we have to get our asses onstage,” Mercedes pointed out. “Think you can wipe that smug googly-eyed look off your face long enough to get ready?”
Blaine bit his lip to try and stop himself from grinning like a doofus. It didn’t work very well.
“I’m ready,” he assured her. He’d never felt more ready in his life.
When they made the callback for the top ten, Kurt was the first person he reached for. Kurt hugged him back so hard he could barely breathe.
When it was announced they had won, it was Kurt who reached for him first. Blaine hadn’t even fully processed that it was their name being read aloud before he was greeted with an armful of Kurt. He laughed into Kurt’s neck, swung him around giddily and looked over his shoulder at where Mr. Schuester stood, smiling proudly with tears in his eyes, Rachel jumping up and down without abandon as she covered her mouth with both hands, Finn looking like someone had hit him upside the head with a two-by-four, Puck and Artie bumping fists, Brittany and Santana twirling in each other’s arms. Sam and Rory were pumping their arms in the air as they partook in some kind of ridiculous victory dance, Sugar had her arms thrown around Mercedes and Quinn, and Mike and Tina clung to one another, rocking back and forth.
The shared joy was so strong it was almost palpable—Blaine breathed it in, tightened his arms around Kurt, mouthed the words We did it and I love you into Kurt’s skin, even though he knew Kurt wouldn’t be able to hear it over the thunderous applause of the audience.
It wasn’t the greatest moment of Blaine’s life, but it definitely ranked somewhere up there.
On the train back to Lima, Kurt sat next to him, slipped his hand into Blaine’s and rested his cheek on his shoulder. Blaine leaned his head against Kurt’s, looked down at their interlocked fingers.
They didn’t speak, but that was okay. Blaine was just happy to have something to hold on to.
It felt like the school year should’ve ended right after Nationals, but there were still finals to study for. Studying with Kurt was never a good idea. Too many distractions. How was Blaine supposed to focus on Faraday’s laws of electrolysis when he had Kurt on his bed in painted-on jeans?
He watched as Kurt read from the textbook spread in front of him, worrying his lower lip and twirling a pencil in his fingers. Kurt’s free hand reached up to trace absent patterns up and down his throat, dipping all the way to his collar bone, and Blaine had to just sit there for a second and enjoy the show. Sometimes Kurt would do something completely innocuous like that and have no idea of the effect it had on him. Not that it took much for Blaine to think about having sex—he did have a teenager’s libido and all—but still.
He stared back down at his notes when Kurt glanced over, but not fast enough.
“I can’t believe graduation is in a week,” Kurt said, and looked at Blaine in that way he did when he was about to say something serious.
Before he could, however, Blaine leaned over to kiss him. Kurt tipped his face up to receive it, closed his eyes the second their lips touched, dropped the pen from his fingers. When they broke apart to breathe, he smiled against Blaine’s mouth.
“What about chemistry?” he asked. “Don’t you need to study?”
Blaine grinned and kissed his way up Kurt’s neck; Kurt helpfully turned his head to the side to give him better access.
“I’m more of a hands-on learner,” he said.
They kissed for a while longer, rolling around on the bed and knocking the textbooks and notebooks to the floor in the process. Blaine wanted to touch him everywhere. Hands in Kurt’s hair, skimming down shoulders to his sides. Kurt wriggled under him, slid his fingers beneath Blaine’s shirt and over his stomach, making Blaine gasp a little into his mouth at the contact. He wasn’t passive about it all, meeting Blaine’s every touch with one of his own.
There was one problem: Kurt’s clothes. The belt was a struggle but not impossible, unlike the tightly knotted tie, though Blaine could at least push that out of the way. But the shirt was something else—there were too many buttons, and he didn’t want to stop kissing Kurt long enough to give its removal his full attention, except after ten minutes of trying he still hadn’t managed to work more than the first two open.
When it became clear it was a futile endeavor, he gave up and collapsed against Kurt’s side, laughing into his shoulder.
“Whoever designed that shirt should market it to abstinent teens,” he groaned. “They’d make a killing selling it as a very effective upper body chastity belt.”
“Forgive me for not dressing for the occasion. I was under the mistaken impression actual studying would be involved,” Kurt said. He shifted to his side, propping himself up on one elbow to look down at Blaine. “But it’s good that we stopped. We’ve been doing this too much lately.”
“Not that so much as… using it as an avoidance technique.”
For a moment Blaine considered playing dumb, but he knew exactly what Kurt meant. Ever since their return from Nationals, it seemed every time either one of them so much as tiptoed around the subject of their future, they’d instead end up derailing the conversation by kissing until the topic fell by the wayside.
It wasn’t the most mature behavior ever, but it had its share of upsides.
“Maybe I just find you completely irresistible,” Blaine teased, slinging his arm over Kurt’s waist and rubbing his thumb against his hip. “Did you ever think of that?”
Kurt’s eyes landed on Blaine’s lips and stayed there. Blaine tilted his head up, moving in slowly, but just as he was about to meet Kurt’s mouth with his—
“Blaine, we can’t just jump each other every time we’re on the brink of a serious conversation about our relationship,” Kurt said, stopping him in his tracks.
Blaine shoved down the flutter of mild panic in his stomach and pulled himself up to sit halfway upright. Kurt was right. They should be mature about this.
“Okay, then let’s talk,” he said. “You graduate in a week.”
“We’re both here for the summer.”
“And then you leave for New York at the end of August.”
“That is the plan,” Kurt said matter-of-factly.
“Neither of us wants to spend the summer apart,” Blaine said. “Unless you’ve changed your mind…?”
Kurt shook his head. “I haven’t.”
“Good,” he said, didn’t even try to hide his relief.
“I just hate having an expiration date looming over our heads,” Kurt said. “It’s depressing. I don’t want to waste the next few months obsessing over how everything is going to be ending.”
“Me neither,” Blaine agreed. “So, how about we enjoy the time we have left while we have it? I’m not saying we have to ignore what’ll happen after that, but… we can agree to make the most of what we have.”
Kurt studied him for a long moment. “After I leave,” he said, “what happens? It’s just… over?”
“Nothing’s going to be over for you, Kurt. It’s New York! There’ll be so much for you there, you won’t even miss me.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Well, you don’t have to miss me yet,” Blaine said. He kissed Kurt again, drawing it out. “By the way, I wanted to do that even before you brought up graduation.”
“So you’re telling me it wasn’t a total avoidance mechanism?”
“Hmm. Maybe fifty-fifty.”
At graduation the next week, Blaine sat next to Mr. Hummel and Carole in the bleachers, keeping an eye out for Kurt. Even from the distance it was easy to spot him across the football field, the high afternoon sun catching and glinting off the top of his spectacularly bedazzled graduation cap. Kurt’s personal touch, of course.
After Quinn’s valedictorian speech, the senior members of New Directions performed a group number in their gowns. Maybe it was because they were national champions now, maybe it was because it was the end of high school and everyone was willing to set aside four years’ worth of grudges and disdain to for once acknowledge how damn talented the glee club was; whatever the case, no one booed. No slushies were thrown. Instead, everyone—students, teachers, families—jumped to their feet with applause.
Blaine couldn’t see the faces of his friends from his place in the stands, but he could imagine what they looked like.
Once all the names of graduates had been called (he’d nearly cheered himself hoarse for Kurt), the diplomas distributed and the caps thrown in the air, he followed Mr. Hummel and Carole down to the football field. He hung back while Mr. Hummel grabbed his son in a tight squeeze, Carole reaching for Finn to do the same.
Eventually Kurt turned to face him, still beaming, doing that cute thing where he bounced up on his toes. Blaine smiled back at him and went in for a quick hug.
“Congratulations,” he said when he pulled back, holding Kurt at arm’s length. He looked good. Glowing. Somehow even while dressed the same as everyone else, Kurt wore it better than anyone there. “You’re a free man. How does it feel to be on the outside?”
“I don’t think it counts as ‘the outside’ when I’m still on school property,” Kurt said dryly as he adjusted his cap. “All I want is to get out of this shapeless monstrosity and into something wildly uncomfortable but fashionable. I’m going home to change, and then I think we’re all going to Breadstix to celebrate. You’re coming, right?”
“Isn’t that more of a family thing?” said Blaine, casting a glance at Mr. Hummel, who was watching the two of them.
Mr. Hummel didn’t even blink. “Yeah, what’s your point?”
Never in his life had Blaine ever so much enjoyed being stared at like he was an idiot.
Breadstix was packed with the dinner crowd, but Carole had had the good sense to make a reservation earlier in the week, so a booth was ready for them when they arrived. Blaine squeezed in at the end next to Kurt and across from Mr. Hummel, who dedicated a toast to his two sons before they ate, nearly bursting with paternal pride.
“I mean it,” Mr. Hummel said toward the end of his rambling speech. “I couldn’t be happier for both you boys. Kurt, going off to New York, and Finn, you getting that arts scholarship to Ohio State… You should both be proud of yourselves. Damn proud. I know I am.”
For a second Blaine thought Finn might actually cry; it felt like he was intruding on some private family moment, but it wasn’t as if he’d shown up uninvited. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, either. There was always something a little jarring about being around Kurt’s family—hanging around the fringes, watching the way they were with each other, effortlessly open and warm. And loud. They talked all the time, about anything and everything. No one in Blaine’s house talked to each other unless they had to.
Kurt’s family was different. Better.
He had the same thought again later that night, driving Kurt home from the graduation party Puck had thrown in the vacant lot behind his house. There’d been a bonfire, music, and enough alcohol to fill one of the swimming pools Puck cleaned on the weekends. Blaine hadn’t touched any of it—lesson well learned on that front—but Kurt decided to take the opportunity to experience getting properly drunk. (“There was one time, sophomore year, but it doesn’t count,” Kurt explained. “I just want to try it once, with this being my last hurrah and everything. I don’t want to get to New York and be an adult and not know what it’s like. Besides, it can’t make me any stupider than it makes you, can it?”)
It turned out drunk Kurt wasn’t too different than sober Kurt, aside from a tendency to break into random, hysterical giggle fits and talk with more volume than necessary. Both of which could present a problem when it came to smuggling him upstairs without waking up his parents.
“Kurt, when we go in, you’re going to have to be quiet for me,” Blaine said as he poured Kurt out of the passenger side. “We don’t want to wake everyone up, okay?”
Kurt stumbled a little as he stepped out of the car and onto the driveway, but righted himself with Blaine’s help and smothered his laughter with one hand.
“I will be as quiet as Matt Rutherford,” Kurt said solemnly.
Blaine paused from dragging Kurt up the driveway to shoot him a puzzled look. “Who is Matt Rutherford?”
“Oh, he left McKinley before you transferred. He used to be in glee club. He was a lovely person. He never said very much though. One time a spider laid eggs in his ear. Isn’t that horrifying?” Kurt didn’t pause long enough for Blaine to confirm that yes, it was indeed horrifying. “And then he moved away. I wonder what he’s up to now. Ooh, I should look him up on Facebook, I don’t know why I haven’t done that already. I hope he gets everything he wants out of life. I just want that for everyone. Everyone should achieve their dreams and be happy and fulfilled. What’s life worth living without dreams?”
“You are a very earnest drunk,” Blaine remarked, maneuvering Kurt up the steps to the front door.
For a second Kurt seemed to sober up completely, or at least enough to arch one eyebrow. “Are you judging my drunken ways, Blaine Anderson? Because if we’re going down that road—”
“Not at all,” Blaine assured him. “It’s adorable, really.”
He opened the front door, closed it behind them as quietly as possible, and half-carried Kurt up the stairs to deposit him stomach-first on his bed. Blaine stood back for a minute, catching his breath and admiring the way Kurt’s ass looked in his tight pants at the same time.
“I’m not even going to try to peel those off of you,” he said. “Let’s just get those boots off.”
Kurt made an incomprehensible muffled sound into his pillow, then flipped over onto his back, his shirt rucking up to expose a strip of his stomach. He lifted one leg off the bed so Blaine could better reach it, watching as Blaine worked down the zippers to grapple off the boots.
“I’m done with high school,” he said. “That feels very strange to say.”
Blaine chuckled and perched on the edge of the bed. “I know, it’s almost like you’re growing up or something.”
He gently nudged Kurt over, pulled back the covers and helped Kurt climb under them. When he moved to stand, Kurt clutched his arm and said, “Hey, hey. Blaine. Hey.”
Blaine pressed a finger to his lips, silently shushing him. “What is it?” he asked.
“I really love you. You know that, right?” he said, and Blaine’s heart clenched a little at the words, the way it always did. A good kind of clench. Kurt was staring up at him, his face flushed and eyes too bright with drunken sheen. “I just wanted to say it in case I asphyxiate on my vomit in my sleep.”
Leave it to Kurt Hummel to still have a hold on his vocabulary while wasted.
“You’ll be fine.” He lifted a hand to stroke Kurt’s hair, and Kurt hummed appreciatively. Blaine half-expected him to start purring. “And yes, I know. I love you, too.”
He planned to run to the bathroom, grab a cup of water and some aspirin to leave at Kurt’s bedside for the morning before making a hasty escape, but things didn’t go so smoothly. As soon as he stepped into the hallway, Carole was waiting for him, arms crossed over her chest. She had on a thick striped robe that made her look all soft and motherly.
“You boys have a fun night?” she asked.
“I wasn’t—we weren’t—” Blaine felt his face heat up under her scrutinizing gaze. “I was just making sure he got to bed okay,” he started to explain. “We didn’t do anything.”
“Mmhmm,” she said, in such a tone he couldn’t tell whether she believed him or not. “So how bad of a hangover should I be expecting him to have tomorrow morning?”
“Please don’t be mad,” he said quickly. He tried to keep his voice down; the last thing he needed was to have Mr. Hummel come out to investigate. “He really didn’t drink that much, and I was his designated driver—”
Carole waved him off with one hand. “Relax, Blaine, you’re not in trouble,” she said. “Kurt’s more responsible than most adults I know. I think he’s earned himself one night of cutting loose without us ringing the alarm.”
“Right,” he said, breathing out his relief. “I was just going to get some water and aspirin for him, and then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“I can do that for you,” she said. “But why don’t you sleep on the couch tonight?”
“Oh, no, I’m fine to drive. I didn’t have anything to drink, I promise.”
“I know, but it’s late. It wouldn’t be a problem, really.”
He stopped to consider. Their couch was pretty comfortable—he’d slept on it plenty of times before—and he always liked being able to see Kurt first thing in the morning, but he’d imposed enough for one day.
“Thank you,” he said, “but I should get home. My parents’ll get worried if I don’t show up.”
That was a lie, and Blaine was pretty sure Carole knew it was a lie, but she didn’t call him out on it. She just eyed him for a long moment before nodding and bidding him goodnight. He turned, stealing quietly down the stairs, skipping the creaky one at the bottom and slipping out the front door.
It wasn’t until he was alone in his car that he gave himself time to think about it—the fact that Kurt was, truly and officially, finished with high school. He’d known about Kurt’s dreams of New York for almost as long as he’d known him; Kurt was always talking about leaving, formulating an escape plan, and that had been okay because Blaine had had the same idea for himself even before Kurt came along, even if the timetable didn’t match up exactly. And he’d supported it because that was what you did for the people you loved. But he’d never really thought about what it’d be like when Kurt was gone. He hadn’t wanted to, in all honesty.
Now, though, it was increasingly impossible to think about anything else. One summer. That was all they had left before everything changed.
At least he’d make it count.
When the Six Flags employment mailing list emailed him about summer audition dates, he deleted it without thinking twice.
The year before he’d been cast as part of a barbershop quartet, where his a capella Warbler experience proved useful, and he’d spent a few hours every day serenading visitors with fifties doo wop in the sweltering heat before driving over to the Hummel house, still in uniform. He’d shower in Kurt’s bathroom, use his loofah to scrub the stink of sweat and fried snack foods from his skin, come out smelling like Kurt’s twenty dollar guava-scented shampoo, and they’d spend the rest of the day lounging around catching up on Elizabeth Taylor’s filmography via NetFlix, or meeting up with Mercedes at the mall, or just driving around aimlessly with the radio blasting, singing at the tops of their lungs. Sometimes they’d wind up at Blaine’s house, in his room, lying on his bed with the record player on in the background, doing nothing but kissing for what felt like hours. Like they had all the time in the world. That’s what that whole summer had felt like: long, lazy, wonderfully endless.
This season’s casting call was for some pirate ship musical they’d decided to put on.
“I don’t think I can handle wearing an eye patch day in, day out. The traumatic flashbacks would be too much,” he joked.
Kurt shot him a look over his coffee that made it clear he didn’t share Blaine’s sense of humor about the situation, any more so than he had right after it’d happened, when Blaine was doped up to the nines and trying to distract Kurt from his fussing with jokes about pillaging and shivering timbers, all of which had been pointedly ignored.
Neither of them came right out and said it, but Blaine was pretty sure Kurt knew the real reason he wasn’t bothering with amusement park gigs this summer; he wanted them to spend as much time together as possible.
Not all of that was one-on-one time. Even with Finn and Rachel’s will-they-won’t-they status set to “won’t” on a (possibly? you never could tell with these things, Blaine thought, especially given what he’d heard of their history) permanent basis, Rachel was around the Hummel-Hudson household a lot. Somehow it wasn’t as awkward as it could’ve been. Finn was spending most of his time working at the shop anyway, trying to save up as much as he could before college rolled around, and when he wasn’t he was usually off with Puck or Sam, shooting off bottle rockets behind the middle school or playing video games or doing whatever.
Sometimes Blaine would come over to find Rachel already there with Kurt. Every time he walked in on them, they cut off their conversation mid-sentence and traded silent looks Blaine couldn’t read. It took a while for him to realize it wasn’t because they were discussing him. They were talking about NYADA.
One morning Carole let him in on her way to the hospital for a shift, making him promise to stick around for dinner before directing him upstairs to Kurt’s room. He bounded up the staircase to find Kurt’s door cracked open a few inches, and he hovered outside for a minute, not eavesdropping, but… okay, so maybe he was eavesdropping.
He couldn’t make out much but a few snippets—things like “Gramercy Park” and “rent control.” After a few seconds he slowly swung open the door. Kurt and Rachel were laying side-by-side stomach-down on the bed, huddled around Kurt’s laptop. When she saw Blaine in the doorway, Rachel fell all over herself in her haste to slam the laptop shut.
“Blaine!” she exclaimed, voice high and shrill. “We were just… composing my Wikipedia page!”
Blaine closed the door behind him, looked from her to Kurt, who had his head bent, chewing on his lower lip. “You have a Wikipedia page?” he said.
“Well, I keep submitting it, but the editors continue to be ignorant of my many prestigious accomplishments and insist I am not a ‘notable person.’ I’m considering suing for defamation of character—my dads are looking into it.”
“Did you mention the PBS Christmas special?” he said. “Maybe that’ll push it over the edge in your favor.”
Rachel’s eyes lit up, but she didn’t get a chance to respond before the strains of Don’t Rain On My Parade began to sound. She grabbed her purse from the floor and dug out her cell phone.
“Oh, I have to go—it’s Mercedes. I’m supposed to meet up with her and Quinn to see the new Channing Tatum movie,” she explained. “I personally don’t get the appeal, but I was outvoted.”
“Yeah, tall, oafish, endearingly dimwitted? That doesn’t sound like your type at all,” Kurt said.
Rachel swatted him with her purse and swept out of the room, leaving them alone.
Blaine fell onto the bed next to Kurt, dropped a few kisses on the back of his shoulder. He could tell Kurt had been in the shower not long ago since he smelled like that cucumber body wash he always used.
“She’s been around a lot lately,” Blaine remarked.
“I know. I think she’s trying to stay distracted so she isn’t wallowing over Finn all of the time. Not that it stops her from interrogating me on his emotional state every five minutes.” Kurt rolled his eyes, then turned a bit to look at Blaine, exasperation replaced by something like disquiet. “It doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“No, of course not. I love Rachel, you know that.” He paused, cleared his throat. “Besides, I know you two have a lot to talk about. Your plans for New York and everything.”
He said it in a somewhat pointed tone, and Kurt looked… embarrassed? Chastened? Blaine couldn’t tell.
“You know,” he said more gently, “it’s fine for you and Rachel to talk about it in front of me.”
“I’m trying to be considerate,” Kurt said. “I don’t want you to think I’m—” His voice broke off, didn’t finish the thought.
He hesitated before saying, “Like I’m rubbing it in your face.”
“You’re not,” Blaine said. “You’re excited. You should be. I’m excited for you.”
“Of course I am, dummy. It’s your future we’re talking about.” He ran a hand up and down Kurt’s back, felt the muscles relax under his palm. “I want to hear all about it. Tell me.”
Kurt looked at him for a long time, like maybe he wasn’t entirely convinced, but then he nodded and opened up the laptop.
“We’re apartment hunting right now,” he said. He pulled up his internet browser, switched to a tab with a list of links. “Her dads agreed to foot most of the rent, and my dad offered to pay for some too since my scholarship covers most of my tuition, but we’ve been looking everywhere and it’s still not enough to afford anything more than a glorified closet. I’m going to be living in a closet, Blaine. Do you see the irony?”
“It’s Manhattan, Kurt,” Blaine said. “Of course it’s expensive. That’s the price you pay for getting to live in the most exciting city in the world.”
“I know, I know. I suppose I was just hoping reality skewed closer to Sex and the City rather than the RENT side of things. I so do not have the right wardrobe to pull off ‘starving artist.’”
“Think of it this way: you’ll be at school most of the time, and when you’re not, you’re in New York City,” he said. “Who cares if your apartment is the size of Carrie Bradshaw’s walk-in Manolo closet? You’re probably not going to spend much time there anyway.”
“Hmm.” Kurt propped his chin on his hand and tapped his fingers against his mouth. “It’s just… overwhelming. I don’t even know where to start.”
“I’ll help you.”
They spent the next two hours looking up information on all of the apartment listings Rachel had forwarded him—the neighborhoods, relative distance to NYADA’s campus, nearest subway stops, Laundromats, rent prices. First they ruled out all of the studios and one bedrooms— sharing an apartment with Rachel Berry, Kurt could handle, but he drew the line at not having his own room, however closet-sized it might be.
After going through the listings and doing some searches of their own, they’d narrowed it down to five possibilities: a nice, roomy-by-Manhattan-standards place in Inwood, one on the Lower East Side whose main drawback was being a railroad style where you had to walk through one bedroom to get to the second, one in Union Square that was closest to campus but also so cramped that just looking at the pictures made Blaine vaguely claustrophobic, a six-story walkup in Nolita, and an apartment in St. Mark’s Place.
The St. Mark’s Place apartment was Blaine’s personal favorite. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and enough space in the living area to comfortably fit a couch and tv stand. The exposed brick and hardwood floors gave it a cozy feel. It was situated in a great neighborhood, young and artsy with lots of restaurants and coffee shops, and it wasn’t too far from NYADA’s campus, either.
Kurt felt the same way. “This is the one,” he said. “I think I could see myself living here.”
Blaine could see it, too: Kurt waking up in that bedroom, Kurt frequenting that coffee shop, Kurt walking those streets. It was easy to imagine.
He kind of hated how easy it was to envision a future for Kurt that didn’t include him at all. When he thought about his own, it seemed hazy, like a half-developed photograph. Sure, there were things he’d wanted for himself for a long time, before he’d even met Kurt, but somewhere along the way he’d started figuring the Kurt of it all into everything. He wasn’t sure where to begin even changing that. It wasn’t that he couldn’t remember life before Kurt; it was that he could, with nearly painful clarity.
The whole point of this was to find a way to move on. He wished it didn’t all feel so much like sliding backwards.
Mr. Schuester and Ms. Pillsbury had a late June wedding, held outside in a park under an arch twined with flowers. It was beautiful. That was no surprise— Kurt had done most of the wedding planning himself. Blaine had helped. “Helping” mostly amounted to debating for an hour whether the invitations should be embossed with gold or silver, tagging along with Kurt, Coach Bieste (the maid of honor), and Ms. Pillsbury to set up the gift registry at the department store, and gorging himself on free samples while Kurt grilled potential caterers on their menus.
The weather was hot enough to make Blaine regret going with his fallback classic black suit, but Kurt next to him in his silver designer label three piece wasn’t faring much better. Despite the heat unfurling his curls and making him itchy with sweat, he thought it was a lovely ceremony. Ms. Pillsbury looked elegant in her simple white gown and her hair swept back, and it was nice to see Mr. Schuester so happy and bright-eyed. The expression on his face when Ms. Pillsbury strode down the aisle was the look of a man who had finally gotten things right and couldn’t believe his luck.
Kurt would never admit it, Blaine knew, but he definitely shed a tear when the vows were exchanged.
They had the reception in this big white tent with tables and a dance floor set up inside, and Mercedes sang The Way You Look Tonight for the bride and groom’s first dance. Neither could stop beaming as they glided around the floor in each other’s arms.
“Watching them is about to send me into a diabetic coma,” Kurt said. He poked at the slice of cake on his plate with his fork, licked off a bit of icing and scrunched up his face. “Wait, no, that would be the cake.”
“Aw, are you still bitter Ms. Pillsbury decided against gluten free?” Blaine patted Kurt’s knee under the table. “You really need to let that go.”
The cake was just about the only battle Kurt had lost in the process. And for good reason—his taste was fantastic. It was pretty incredible to see what he’d been able to pull off on a teacher’s budget. Incredible, but not surprising. Kurt could accomplish anything he set his mind to, Blaine had no doubt about that. Times like these, he wondered what Kurt could be capable of when the deck wasn’t stacked against him one way or another.
He applauded with the rest of the guests as the song ended, then kicked back the rest of his sparkling cider and rose from his chair, extending a hand to Kurt.
“Dance with me?” he asked.
Kurt took his hand, let Blaine lead him to the dance floor, where other couples were coming out of the woodwork to join. He put one hand on Blaine’s shoulder, laced their fingers together with the other. Blaine looked around at the décor—the blue tulle bows wrapped around each chair, the hanging flower baskets, the twinkly strands of fairy lights strewn everywhere.
“You did an amazing job,” he said, curling a hand around Kurt’s waist.
Kurt scoffed as if it had all been nothing more than a sleight of hand.
“I’m serious,” he insisted. “The floating tea rose candle centerpieces? Brilliant. I might have to steal that idea for when I get married.”
Kurt blinked and pulled back from him a little. “You think about your wedding?”
“Why do you sound so surprised? Don’t you remember last summer, me staying up all night with you to watch the royal wedding live?”
“And then my dad came downstairs and thought something terrible had happened because you, me, and Carole were all crying our eyes out over how perfect it was?” Kurt laughed at the memory. “I think he’s still judging me for that.”
“If my dad knew, he’d probably have me institutionalized,” Blaine said. He meant it as a joke, but it came out with a harder edge than he’d intended.
Kurt mercifully changed the subject.
“So exactly how detailed has your fantasy wedding thought process been?” he asked. “Have you considered locale? Theme?”
“All I know is I want tulips draped on every available surface,” Blaine said. “Just, like, an explosion of tulips, everywhere.” Off of Kurt’s horrified expression, he laughed. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I think blue hydrangeas would be a more tasteful choice.”
Kurt nodded. “I’m partial to calla lilies myself, but hydrangeas are acceptable,” he said. “It’d have to be an indoor venue, because your hair demands controlled temperatures.” He paused. “But no churches.”
“No churches,” Blaine agreed.
He drew Kurt in a little closer so his temple rested against Kurt’s cheek. Mercedes was still belting away.
They swayed in silence. Blaine wanted to just stand still for a second and savor this, the feeling of Kurt in his arms, a moment of calm before— before whatever. Before the next wave. Part of him wanted to say thank you, but Kurt would ask him for what, and he didn’t really know what he’d like to come out after that, because most of it would sound cheesy and overly sentimental.
But right then, Kurt was here with him. Blaine got to dance with his boyfriend, and sing silly pop songs with him in the car, and lie on the Hummel couch with his head in Kurt’s lap watching terrible reality television accompanied by Kurt’s hilarious running commentary, and tell Kurt jokes and watch him laugh. Or sometimes not laugh and shoot judgmental-yet-still-fond looks instead. He had someone to talk to about anything and everything, someone who would listen, and understand, always, and maybe even kiss him afterward—one of the greatest perks of dating your best friend.
For now Blaine got to have everything he wanted to thank Kurt for, and all the things that made him want to be everything Kurt deserved.
Summer went by too fast. Time was weird that way, though, like how pre-calc always felt like it lasted three hours instead of one, and glee club practice never felt long enough. Like how one year left of high school wasn’t that long when looked at objectively, but the idea of a year without Kurt seemed like an eternity. So much could happen in one year. So much could change.
Everyone seemed to be aware of it. Sure, they’d all stay in touch, and they’d all be friends after this, but they wouldn’t be together. It wouldn’t be the same. Not with Mercedes headed to UCLA, Finn to Columbus, Quinn to New Haven, Kurt and Rachel to New York. Brittany had not only pulled off the miracle to end all miracles by graduating, but she’d even been recruited to a dance school in Miami; Puck, whose surprising knack for entrepreneurship led to Mr. Hummel hiring him as a part-time manager for the tire shop while he took night classes at business school, would be sticking around, and so would Sam, who’d been accepted on a scholarship to Lima University. Mike had had his pick of dance schools and would be off to New York to attend the Ailey School. Santana—well, no one knew exactly what Santana’s plans were, but Blaine was pretty sure they didn’t entail staying in Ohio.
It was like everyone knew they’d all be headed off in different directions and were trying to overcompensate, spending more time hanging out together than they had during the school year. Sugar Motta’s dad rented out the roller rink for Rory’s goodbye party, and everyone went. The girls were always going off to the movies or the mall together. Rachel threw a few karaoke get-togethers in her basement, her dads acting as emcees. The Hummel-Hudsons put together a Fourth of July backyard barbeque and invited everybody. Mike and Tina set up weekly Breadstix double dinner dates with Kurt and Blaine.
Those could get a little awkward at times, since Mike and Tina had decided to try the long distance thing.
“We know how hard it’ll be, so we promised there’ll be no pressure,” Tina explained to Blaine when they were alone at the booth, waiting for Kurt and Mike to return from the bathroom. “If either of us meets someone else, then… well… it’s okay. Maybe things aren’t meant to be. We just thought we should give it a shot.”
He could tell Tina didn’t understand why they weren’t trying the same for themselves. She wasn’t the only one. The only people who didn’t question Blaine about it were his parents.
It wasn’t something he’d planned to bring up around them. They knew about Kurt, of course, had even met him on a handful of occasions—encounters Blaine tried his best to keep as brief as possible. He didn’t really believe they’d ever say or do anything outright hostile, but they embarrassed him with their quiet disapproval, their poorly-disguised uneasiness over the situation. That’s how Blaine’s gayness had always been framed by them: it was “his situation.” As if it were some unfortunate, hopefully temporary set of circumstances.
He’d rather keep those two sides of his life separate, divided, compartmentalized. He didn’t want to share too much of Kurt with them, because he knew they would take this—this wonderful, amazing, incredible thing in his life—and twist it into something… else.
He hadn’t told his parents, didn’t know how he would even bring it up since they never talked about Kurt or anything encompassing emotion in general, but then Cooper got involved.
That wasn’t exactly planned, either. What happened was that Rachel and Kurt had agreed the St. Mark’s apartment was the one they wanted; the current sub-letter would be moving out at the end of July, so a deposit had to be made before then, and soon, if they wanted first dibs. Rachel’s dads were worried about putting money down on a place they couldn’t see for themselves.
“Curtains,” Rachel said. “Do you think we’ll need curtains? I think we should go for a red theme. Red velvet. Dramatic and bold and—”
“No,” Kurt said flatly. He slumped over the shopping cart. “How are we supposed to furnish an apartment we don’t even have?”
They were in Sheets ’N Things, stocking up on supplies for the apartment. The one that wasn’t theirs— yet.
“Look Kurt, I told you, I’m trying to convince them not to wait and miss out on our prime piece of New York real estate, but they’re really stubborn on this,” Rachel said. “I even tried plying them with my infamous vegan cheesecake, and I sang them a power ballad about it. They both cried—of course they did, they’re only human—but they still won’t budge. They’re not going to co-sign a lease sight unseen.” She blew a hot breath through her bangs. “I wish we could find someone to look at it for us. Someone they would trust.”
“I could ask my brother,” Blaine suggested.
Cooper lived in Manhattan, somewhere uptown, in one of those fancy high rises with doormen and elevators. Blaine had never visited him there. Blaine didn’t even know what he did for a living except that it had to do with advertising—he imagined it to be something like Mad Men, which it probably wasn’t but hey, it was more interesting to think than whatever the reality was.
Kurt raised an eyebrow. “Do you think he’d do it?”
Blaine didn’t know. He and Cooper weren’t exactly close.
He called later that afternoon when he was alone, knowing Rachel and Kurt would badger him with what to say if they were around for it. The line rang five times and almost switched to voicemail before someone picked up at the last moment.
“Yeah?” Cooper answered in this brisk, curt, don’t-waste-my-precious-time tone that reminded Blaine of their dad. He hated that tone.
“Hey,” he said. “It’s Blaine.”
“I know. There’s this invention called caller ID, maybe you’ve heard of it. So, what is it you want from me?”
Blaine bristled, affronted despite himself. “Who said I—”
“The only reason for you to be calling is because someone is dead, someone is about to die, or you need a favor,” Cooper said. “Since you’re not crying like a little bitch right now, I’m going to assume no one’s keeled over recently.”
It was more than a little blunt, but Blaine couldn’t deny it. He took a breath.
“Well… okay, I do need to ask you something,” he admitted. “So you remember Kurt, right?”
“The boyfriend?” he said. “Yeah, I remember.”
“He’s moving to New York for school, and I’ve been looking at apartments with him—”
“Jesus, cohabitating straight out of high school?” Cooper barked out an incredulous laugh. “What does dear old dad think about that?”
“Dad doesn’t think anything about it because we’re not moving in together,” Blaine said. “I still have a year of high school left. I’m not dropping out or anything.”
“Wait, really? Huh. I could’ve sworn you were a senior.”
“I wish.” How many headaches would that have saved? “And Kurt and I aren’t—we’re not… together. Um. Or we won’t be, after he moves.”
“He broke up with you?”
“It was mutual.”
Cooper snickered on the other end. “People always say that, but it never is.”
“I guess that makes us the exception then,” he snapped. Cooper was one of the last people on the planet he wanted to get into this with. “Look, I’m not calling for relationship advice. There’s an apartment in St. Mark’s Place Kurt needs someone to look at to make sure it’s… as advertised. I was hoping maybe you’d be willing to do me a favor and check it out for him. But if you’re going to give me a hard time, just forget about it—”
“Oh, relax, will you? Give me the address.”
Blaine’s righteous anger deflated like a popped balloon. “Wait, so you’ll do it?”
“Set it up and I might be able to squeeze it in after work tomorrow. But you owe me big time,” he warned. “Do you know how hard it blows trying to catch a cab in Midtown?”
So Cooper went and scoped it out the next night, snapped some pictures to email to Blaine and even spoke with Leroy Berry on the phone for almost an hour assuring him the place wasn’t a cockroach-infested hellhole. Blaine didn’t know what had inspired Cooper to do all that—maybe he’d just caught him in a rare generous mood—but he figured he’d end up paying for it sooner or later.
It turned out to be sooner than Blaine anticipated. Blaine didn’t even think his parents would be home when he came downstairs; Saturdays usually had his mom running errands all day and his dad off with his buddies at the golf course. But there they were, bright and early, his mother fixing the coffee and his father flipping idly through the mail at the table as he sipped from his mug.
When Blaine first saw them he froze mid-step, and for a second considered backtracking and disappearing upstairs—except even with the lack of eye contact there was no way he’d gone unnoticed, and that level of avoidance would be too blatant. So instead he pushed forward and tried to pretend their presence neither unexpected nor unwanted, heading casually into the kitchen for what he’d come for.
He rummaged around the refrigerator for an orange, shut the door and leaned against it.
“I thought you had golf today,” he said to his dad, because feigning interest in one another’s lives felt like the polite thing to do. And politeness was easy. Practically second nature at this point.
“Rescheduled for tomorrow,” his father answered, eyes still on the stack of envelopes.
“Oh,” Blaine said. He tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to modulate the disappointment in his voice. His mother offered the coffee, but he shook his head. “I’m meeting Kurt at the Lima Bean.”
“Mm,” she said as she jiggled the pot back into place. She had that look on her face she got whenever Kurt’s name was mentioned, like she was thinking of all the biological grandchildren Blaine would never give her. “You know, Cooper called last night.”
A sense of dread prickled up his spine, but he tried to mask it with nonchalance. “Yeah?”
“He mentioned you asked him to look at an apartment for Kurt,” she said. “He was also under the impression that you two—that you’re not—” She let her hands finish the thought for her.
So there it was.
“We’ve decided to… take a break,” he said slowly. “After he leaves for school.”
His father actually looked at him for the first time since he’d entered the room. Blaine wished he wouldn’t. He silently prayed he wouldn’t say anything; he couldn’t take whatever his dad had to be thinking, not right now. Or ever, to be honest.
His mother picked a dish cloth up off the counter, gingerly folded it corner-to-corner, like the task took all of her concentration. He could feel his father’s eyes on him, still.
“Well,” she said in this careful voice. “That’s for the best, don’t you think.”
It wasn’t a question.
It took three full days to pack up Kurt’s room. The closet alone took half of that, trying to figure out what should stay in Lima, what to bring with him to New York. Everything had to be ready to go soon; Rachel and her dads had come up with the idea of renting a truck to drive to the city, and they’d offered to take most of Kurt’s things with them. They’d also offered for Kurt to ride along, but he’d politely declined. Ten hours squeezed in such close quarters with that many Berrys was a little too intense for him to handle. Instead he was going to fly in a week later, when everything was a little more settled.
Kurt insisted he try on everything in his closet before making any decisions, which slowed the process considerably, but Blaine wasn’t about to complain since it involved Kurt undressing. A lot.
“What do you think?” Kurt said, pulling up his shirt a little and spinning a slow circle so Blaine could get a better view of the studded trousers he was sporting. He kept twisting his head around to glimpse for himself, and it gave him the effect of looking like a puppy chasing its own tail. Adorable.
“They look great, but aren’t you already bringing two pairs just like them?”
“No, these ones have silver stitching, and the cuffs are—” Kurt trailed off at Blaine’s meaningful eyebrow raise. “Okay, point taken. The pants stay.”
Later he emerged from the closet, dressed in his jeans and a bin of accessories in his arms. They emptied it on the floor, sat across from each other, picking through the belts and brooches and hats.
Suddenly Kurt said, “Oh,” and Blaine looked up to see a long burgundy scarf in his hands.
It was one of Blaine’s. He must’ve left it here by accident, or lent it to Kurt, or something.
“I guess I should—give this back,” Kurt said after an awkward moment, something pinched and pained in his expression. He handed the scarf over to Blaine.
Blaine took it from him, then shook his head. “No, you keep it,” he said. He leaned over and looped it around Kurt’s neck. “Looks better on you anyway.”
Normally that would be his cue to tug both ends of the scarf until Kurt spilled forward into his lap, and they’d kiss for a while, and the tension would evaporate until they stumbled on the next unpleasant reminder of their impending separation. He almost started to—could see how Kurt expected it, nearly holding his breath waiting—but instead he let the ends slip through his fingers and sat back. He couldn’t just push away that feeling and make himself forget. Not today.
He returned to untangling the mess between them. There were two piles: Things To Take and Things To Leave.
It was hard, knowing which he belonged to.
Blaine liked Rachel’s dads. Who wouldn’t? They were warm people, full of life, always regaling the room with hilarious stories. But it was more than that. He was impressed by them, really. By what they had. The easy banter, the affectionate bickering, the way they still looked at each other after so many years together. He’d never encountered an adult gay couple in real life; he couldn’t even really remember seeing any growing up on television or in movies. He sort of looked up to them in a way. From a distance. It had to be hard sometimes for them, living in Lima, but they made it look so easy.
“Why do you think they decided to stay here?” Blaine asked Kurt once, after the first time he’d met them backstage at Regionals.
“Beats me,” Kurt had shrugged. “It’s not like they don’t have money. You’d think they’d have hightailed it out of this town to somewhere where cow tipping isn’t considered the height of culture.”
Blaine wouldn’t have blamed them for it, but he thought it was kind of… brave, even inspiring, for them to take root here rather than let themselves be run off to some more tolerant big city.
The Berrys came over a week before Kurt was set to leave, early in the morning, U-Haul truck parked in the drive. Rachel was back at the house doing some last minute packing for the road trip later that night and Mr. Hummel wouldn’t be back from D.C. for another few days. Finn wasn’t thrilled about helping move boxes, but Kurt had blackmailed him into it. That knowledge of his brother’s internet browser history still proved useful leverage.
As soon as Carole opened the front door Hiram Berry barreled in, grabbing her by the shoulders and kissing both her cheeks.
“Carole, darling, light of my life,” he said, “I am in absolute desperate need of a drink. Desperate.”
She blinked at him, caught off-guard. “Oh…kay. Well, I’m not sure what we have. Are you sure it’s not a little early for that?”
“Not early enough if you ask me! Which you did. And it’s not.” Hiram snorted. “Don’t worry your gorgeous head, I can whip something up on my own. If I don’t just go straight for the bottle first. Merlot, merlot, my kingdom for some merlot.”
“You’ll have to forgive Hiram today,” Leroy said. “He’s in a mood because I deleted Dance Moms off the Tivo last night to make room.”
“Oh, because you just had to record the No Reservations rerun you’ve only seen eight times,” Hiram shot back. “I wonder why! I’m sure Anthony Bourdain, your little bad boy silver fox chef extraordinaire being shirtless had nothing to do with it!”
He threw his hands in the air and stalked past them all into the kitchen.
“It was the Miami episode! You know I have a deep-seated appreciation for Cuban-influenced cuisine!” Leroy called after him. He turned back to Carole, Kurt, Finn, and Blaine, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “Don’t mind him. Let’s get you moved out, shall we?”
Moving took some time, but not as long as Blaine expected it would, since they had so many helping hands. Everyone pitched in except for Hiram, who stayed in the kitchen doing… whatever he was doing.
Soon enough all of the boxes had been taped up and transported from Kurt’s room to the truck. Everyone trudged into the kitchen, sweaty and starving, where Hiram had taken over—he’d constructed a towering plate of finger sandwiches, half of which Finn immediately scooped onto his plate, and had two pitchers and glasses set up on the table.
“I made margaritas,” Hiram said to Carole. “They pack a wallop, so if you want a virgin—and you know sometimes I guess we all do!—just say so.”
They all sat out on the back patio and relaxed in the sun. It was a perfect summer day, clear blue skies and a light breeze. Hiram’s bad mood had apparently vanished once he had a drink in him, because he kept his hand loose at the back of Leroy’s neck, grinning at his jokes, jumping in with collaborative details when Leroy recounted an amusing incident in South Beach with a cabana boy and a banana milkshake that had everyone gasping with laughter.
For a while Blaine and Finn got up and tossed a football back and forth. They’d done this before, whenever Mr. Hummel barbecued in the backyard on Friday nights, but sometimes Finn still misjudged the height difference and threw too high.
Three times he sent the ball sailing over Blaine’s head and into the bushes. The last time, Blaine retrieved it and trotted back to his place, pitched it to Finn. Finn caught it easily, then held it in his hands. He had that expression on his face that indicated he was either lost in thought or hungry. Possibly both.
“I’m gonna miss this, man,” he said.
Blaine cast a sideways look at the patio; Kurt, Carole, and the Berrys were deep in the midst of some discussion, mindless to anything else. Even out of earshot he could tell it was an ardent conversation—Hiram waving his drink around, Kurt talking with his hands to embellish whatever he was saying— but they were all smiling, happy and bright in the afternoon sun. It was a picture worthy of an outdoor furniture advertisement. Or a postcard. The kind you send to someone you love miles and miles away.
“Hey, it’s not like anyone’s dying,” he said to Finn. “You won’t be that far. And I’ll still be around here.”
He hoped he didn’t sound bitter about that.
“True,” Finn agreed, except he gave Blaine a long look, turning the football over in his hands. He wasn’t a stupid guy. “But, you know what I mean.”
The football soared in a gentle arc toward Blaine, straight on. He caught it with both hands. No fumbling this time.
Yeah. Blaine knew.
Rachel drove to the house herself before dinner to say her goodbyes. She stayed upstairs with Finn for a long time. When she came back down, her face was puffy, like she’d been crying really hard.
In the foyer she wrapped Kurt up in a lingering hug, sniffing a little as she pulled away. “I’ll call you as soon as I can,” she said. “And every day until you get there. I’ll tell you everything. You’ll be so sick of my voice.”
Blaine could almost see the way Kurt swallowed the automatic catty retort—probably something along the lines of, So it’ll be just like high school, then?—and offered her a smile instead.
“Good, because I demand to know every last detail,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay for dinner?”
Rachel shook her head. “No, thank you. My dads are waiting for me.”
“Okay. In that case, I have a brisket in the oven to check on.” Kurt hugged her again, quickly, and hurried off to the kitchen.
Blaine watched him go, and when he finally turned back, Rachel was staring at him with eyes full of understanding.
“Do you know how you look at him?” she said softly. “It’s the same way my dads look at each other. And Burt and Carole. Like how Finn—” Her voice quavered a touch before she cut herself off, looked down and brushed the hair out of her eyes. “It’s really special. I can’t imagine—well, I can. Unfortunately.”
“Rachel,” he started, not sure what to say.
“I know how much it must hurt. He’s hurting too, I know he is. And me. All of us. It’s not fair,” she said. “But I guess that’s growing up.”
He gave her a weak, watery smile. “Do you think I could just stop for a while then?”
She smiled back a little tearfully and swept Blaine up in her arms, tight enough to squeeze the breath out of him.
“He’ll be okay,” she said.
“I know that. I know.”
Kurt was Kurt; he could do anything. Make it through anything.
“I’ll take care of him for you,” Rachel promised, voice low. It was like something straight out of a movie or play, exactly the kind of dramatic statement she loved to make— Rachel Berry, the girl who stormed through life as if she were the star of her own musical production, everyone around her mere supporting players—but when he looked at her face, he saw how truly she meant it.
Blaine’s throat closed up and he couldn’t speak.
“Thank you,” he managed after a moment.
They drew apart and stood there smiling at each other. All at once she straightened, tossed her head so her hair settled over her shoulders.
“I should be going,” she said. “I’ll miss you, Blaine. I understand my shoes are impossible to fill since I’m a once-in-a-generation kind of talent, but please do your best to uphold the legacy I’ve left New Directions.”
“I will,” he grinned. “And be safe, okay?”
“Don’t worry, my dads are excellent drivers.”
Blaine walked her to the door, opened it, and just as she started to step through, he put a hand on her shoulder. She turned back to him, curious.
“I can’t wait to see your name up in lights, Rachel,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Rachel’s smile was bright enough to light up an entire city on its own. “I know.”
It was just the two of them for dinner. After they ate, Kurt took some leftovers for Finn right up to his room and stayed there for a while, probably comforting him over whatever had happened with Rachel, Blaine figured. Carole was upstairs catching some sleep before her overnight shift at the hospital.
When Kurt returned, Blaine was busying himself by clearing off the dishes in the sink. Kurt wordlessly slid in next to him to help.
“So Carole’s working all night,” Blaine said.
“Mmhm.” Kurt was distracted, fiddling around to arrange a pot in the crowded dishwasher rack.
“And my parents are in Atlanta.”
Some business trip convention thing—they’d be gone for a few days.
“I thought it was Albuquerque.”
“No, Atlanta. But that’s not the point. The point is that my parents aren’t around. Your parents aren’t around. And my house is empty.” He paused heavily. “Do you see where I’m going with this?”
The realization registered in Kurt’s eyes, and he almost dropped a plate. “Oh. Yes. Yes, I think I do.”
“We don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to,” Blaine said quickly. “I know you have a lot you still need to get done before you go. Or you might not want to leave Finn alone tonight. I just thought… this might be the last time. That we have the chance.”
He felt like he was breaking some unspoken rule by bringing it up, but someone had to.
Kurt stepped forward, laid a soapy hand on Blaine’s arm and squeezed. “Of course I want to,” he said firmly. He leaned over and brushed a kiss across Blaine’s cheek. “Let me go get a change of clothes.”
Back when they first started having sex, they’d spent a lot of time laughing their way through it. They’d both been nervous about what they were doing, not completely sure of the mechanics; Blaine found out fast that nothing on the internet could fully prepare you for the real thing. Sex wasn’t like what the movies or his mother’s romance novels he’d stolen growing up made it seem. It was messy, and sometimes embarrassing, elbows accidentally jabbing weird places and clumsy grappling with condoms, the kind of stuff people didn’t really talk about. Early on the laughing had helped to take the nervous edge off, make the experience more comfortable as they navigated different positions and angles and how their bodies best fit together. It made the awkward moments less awkward.
By now they’d found a good rhythm to things. Sometimes they switched it up if they were in the mood, but they’d spent enough hours talking, fooling around and making each other melt into the mattress to determine what worked best for them. What felt right.
Tonight there was no laughter. And not much talking, either. The front door had hardly clicked shut before Kurt had Blaine pressed up against it.
He all but dragged Blaine upstairs into his room, and pulled him in for a kiss that didn’t end until they were lying in a tangled heap on the bed. They broke apart only to undress each other in snatches—not so many layers this time, thankfully—and Blaine had never been more pleased with himself for having the foresight to store some supplies within arm’s reach in his nightstand drawer, because he didn’t think he’d be able to pry himself apart from Kurt long enough to leave the bed.
It was hard enough abandoning Kurt’s mouth for the time it took for to drag his shirt up over his head. And then it was off, and his lips found Kurt’s again. Kurt grabbed him by the hips, pulled him close so their legs intertwined. Their kissing wasn’t usually like this— desperate, as if their lives depended on it—and Blaine wondered if they should try to slow down, savor it more, but he figured they would have time for that later.
He settled a hand between Kurt’s legs, and the first touch made Kurt twist against him, gasping. Blaine’s hand moved in a familiar rhythm. It wasn’t the same as how he touched himself, it wouldn’t even make Kurt come, it was just enough to get him a little unraveled.
“Blaine,” Kurt breathed, “god, Blaine—”
He loved that hitch in Kurt’s voice, the one that told him he was doing everything right.
And then it was Kurt’s turn to reduce Blaine to a quivering mess. He rolled on top, slowly worked in a lubed finger, and then another, and every time Blaine stopped writhing around long enough to focus, he saw Kurt watching him intently with a hint of surprise in his eyes. He always did that, no matter how many times they did this, no matter how many times Blaine was spread beneath him in this exact position. Like he was marveling at his own power to leave Blaine gasping and begging for more. Like it was hard for him to believe he could do that to another person.
Kurt eased himself in slowly, and Blaine felt his muscles clench, the slight burn and stretch and feeling of being filled to the brim. He closed his eyes. It was too much and not enough, somehow. He wanted to laugh, wanted to sob, wanted it to stop and wanted it to never end.
Suddenly the feeling lessened, and Blaine looked up to see Kurt had drawn back a little. His eyes were shining in the thrown dim light of the table lamp.
“Are you okay?” Kurt asked, and it was only then Blaine realized he was trembling.
“Don’t stop,” he said hoarsely. His shaky hands pulled Kurt back to him. “Don’t stop.”
Kurt began to move faster, one hand braced on Blaine’s hip, the other moving over Blaine’s cock with these unbearably light touches, and Blaine couldn’t do more than gasp out some mash of nonsensical syllables. He tilted his hips up, both hands clutching at Kurt’s naked back, and god, he couldn’t think anything beyond this, Kurt deep inside him, every thrust rubbing against that sweet spot that made him see stars.
He came with a cry all over Kurt’s hand, was still caught up in it as Kurt thrust once, twice more, and then collapsed on top of him, face pressed into the crook of Blaine’s neck.
Kurt pulled out and slid most of the way off of him, leaving an arm flung around Blaine’s waist. Everything was suddenly quiet except for their ragged breaths. When Blaine turned around in his arms, Kurt was closer than he expected, their noses touching. That fuzzy out of focus kind of close.
He took a moment to just drink the sight in. He’d never known anyone the way he knew Kurt. The smattering of faded freckles across his shoulders and how he smelled and that sensitive spot above the hollow of his collarbone. It was an incredible feeling, to know somebody that intimately.
They went for two more rounds later that night, taking their time with it. Neither of them spoke very much, except for Kurt repeating Blaine’s name in little whispers, like a prayer, something reverent.
The first glimpses of sunrise were filtering through the blinds when Blaine opened his eyes again. Kurt was spooned against his back, one hand curled around Blaine’s wrist as if trying to keep him there. He carefully extracted himself from Kurt’s grasp, and when he pulled away to go to the bathroom, Kurt made a snuffling sound and stretched an arm out in the empty space.
Blaine slipped down the hall into the bathroom, took a leak, brushed his teeth quickly, and returned to see Kurt had stirred awake. His head peeked out from under the sheets, matted hair sticking out in all directions. Blaine was in love with Kurt’s early morning bedhead, how it looked before he had any chance to style every lock into place.
He climbed back onto the bed, and Kurt lazily pulled Blaine under the covers with him. “Mm. Where’d you go?”
“Missed you,” Kurt mumbled, drawing the sheets up to cocoon them and trap the warmth in.
He kissed the top of Kurt’s head and snuggled close against his side. “Not going anywhere.”
They drifted back to sleep, Blaine’s head pillowed on Kurt’s shoulder, Kurt’s arm draped over Blaine’s back, their legs entwined. Blaine liked the way it felt, warm and safe. He closed his eyes, matching their breathing, and tried not to think about anything else.
“What’d you think of the movie?” asked Tina.
They were outside the theater, walking back to her car while Blaine checked his texts for the tenth time in the last hour. He was grateful to have her there. He hated being in parking lots after dark.
He stuck his cell phone back in his pocket. He’d been checking it obsessively all day; Kurt had picked his dad up from the airport that morning, was clocking in some much-needed family bonding time. After all, there were only two days to go before he left Ohio.
“I thought it was good,” he said to her. He didn’t know if it was a lie or not because he’d barely been able to pay attention to what they’d just watched. Not even Ryan Gosling’s abs proved enough of a distraction. And how was that possible?
“So,” Tina said, shifting her purse strap on her shoulder and jingling her car keys in one hand. “How’s Kurt doing?”
“Great,” he said. “Busy. You know how it is.”
And it sucked. On a selfish level. Only one day apart and he was displaying withdrawal symptoms. How was he going to survive this?
“Uh-huh.” Tina glanced at him sideways. “And what about you?”
He flashed her a smile. Hoped it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “I’m handling it.”
Tina looked like she knew better.
His parents came back from Atlanta with tans. Blaine had the feeling they’d spent more time by the poolside and on the golf course than doing anything business-related. Not that it mattered to him.
The mini-vacation put his mom in a good mood and that made him seriously resentful, which Blaine was self-aware enough to realize was stupid, because it wasn’t like everyone else should be unhappy just because he was. But his heart wouldn’t listen to his logical brain, and watching her flutter around chatting on the phone and humming as she cleaned the kitchen only made him grow even more annoyed.
“How about we go out to dinner tomorrow night?” she suggested. “I could make reservations at Breadstix. You like that place, don’t you?”
It took all of Blaine’s willpower not to raise his voice.
“I can’t,” he said shortly. “I have plans. It’s Kurt’s last day in town.”
“Oh, right,” she said, like this was something she’d merely forgotten, when the truth was she probably had never heard him mention it in the first place. “Another time, then.”
He hated how unbothered she was by it all. Like Kurt’s departure meant nothing—even though Blaine knew it didn’t mean anything to her, not really, except maybe some sense of relief.
He wished he had a punching bag in the house. He would’ve asked for one, but he knew his dad would jump all over it as some sign of the Great Straight Hope, clap Blaine on the back and comment on how he was finally becoming A Real Man. It was already bad enough dealing with the constant insinuations he made about Blaine’s lack of stereotypical masculinity in order to backhandedly insult him.
So, no punching bag. But he needed to burn off some energy. Get out of this damn house. He strapped on his shoes and went for a run instead.
He’d always been good at running.
Cooking was one of Blaine’s favorite things to do with Kurt. He wasn’t a master-chef-in-training like him, but he had a set of skills. He could hold his own. Not like Finn who could barely be trusted to boil water.
He liked the way they worked together when they cooked. He liked the closeness of it, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, turning and feeding bites of ingredients into each other’s mouths. And he liked watching Kurt work with his hands, kneading and slicing and sprinkling in deft, expert movements; it was really hot, to be honest. It was the same feeling he got as watching Kurt sing-- seeing someone be excellent at something they knew they were excellent at.
So Blaine was more than okay with spending their last evening in the kitchen making dinner. Kurt stationed himself at the stove and relegated Blaine to the cutting board to dice up the tomatoes and garlic. It wasn’t really any different from Friday night dinners previous; Mr. Hummel wandered in, grumbling about the lack of red meat but complimenting the smells, and Finn came in to whine about being starving and try to steal the cookies kept over the refrigerator until Kurt chased him back into the dining room, and Blaine served as taste tester, obediently opening his mouth to gauge the thickness of the sauce, the tenderness of the chicken. They listened to the top forty station on the radio and sang along, trading off verses and harmonizing on choruses, dancing their way from counter to stove to pantry and using ladles and wooden spoons as makeshift microphones.
Mr. Hummel walked back in just as Blaine was twirling Kurt on his way to the cutlery drawer.
“Just so you know, if you don’t get some food out here soon your brother’s gonna start eating his damn arm,” he said.
Kurt rolled his eyes. “Give us five minutes.”
They got the food on the table before Finn had resorted to self-cannibalism. After dinner, Kurt followed Mr. Hummel and Finn into the living room, and Blaine stacked the plates and carried them to the kitchen sink. He was rinsing the dirty dishes off when Carole came in behind him.
“Aren’t you sweet?” she said, touching her hand to the middle of his back.
Blaine shrugged one shoulder. “It’s the least I can do.”
“You know, it’s going to be very lonely without you boys around,” she said. Her palm was still there, resting between his shoulder blades, and he was acutely aware of its warm weight. “I’m already feeling the empty nest syndrome. Earlier today I took Kurt with me grocery shopping and almost teared up in the bread aisle when I realized it’s the last time we’ll get to do that for… well, a long time.”
She shook her head a little at herself like she thought she was being ridiculous, her laugh tapering off into a deep sigh.
“Finn won’t be that far away,” he reminded her helpfully. “I’m sure he’ll come home on the weekends wanting you to make him dinner and do his dirty laundry and all those other mom things.”
“You’re right, he probably will,” she agreed, smiling. “The thing is, I’ll probably look forward to it too. It’s funny. You think you can’t wait until your kids are old enough to get out of your hair and fly out there on their own, and then the day comes…” She trailed off before wrinkling her nose. “I’m sorry, you don’t need me getting all sentimental on you.”
“No, it’s fine. I get it,” he said. “Well, I don’t get it, but I can imagine.”
She looked at him for a long moment. “This must be hard for you, too,” she said. “I know you and Kurt love each other very much.”
Her hand curled around the cap of his shoulder and squeezed it in such a gentle way his chest twinged. He thought of his own mother, telling him it was for the best, and his dad, just looking at him, his silence speaking multitudes.
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat and focusing on scrubbing the plate in his hand. He couldn’t look at Carole anymore, not when she was staring at him with such open motherly concern. “I guess I’m trying not to think about it too much.”
Trying, and failing. It was all he was able to think about. How could he think of anything else?
“Blaine, I hope you know that if you ever need anything—our door is always open for you,” she told him.
Sometimes he wondered how much Kurt had told them about his own parents— if anything at all. Maybe it was some maternal instinct thing, and she could just tell what he needed to hear.
Part of him wanted to hug her then, because he knew she would wrap her arms around him and hold him back, and Carole was a great hugger. Instead he settled for a slightly wavering smile and said, “Thank you,” holding her gaze so she knew how much he meant it.
Somehow he’d never considered this: letting go of Kurt meant letting go of his family too. No more Friday night dinners. No more helping Kurt and Carole cook in the kitchen, or watching football with Mr. Hummel and Finn on Sundays. No more hanging around a house filled with easy conversation and amicable squabbling and laughter and warmth. It was just one more thing to lose.
Kurt hovered in the doorway, beaming and bouncing on his heels. He practically skipped across the kitchen and snatched Blaine’s hand, knotting their fingers together.
“I need to steal him away from you, sorry!” he said to Carole, not sounding particularly apologetic about it.
Blaine turned to her with his mouth open, but she waved him off and said, “Go on, I’ll take care of this,” so he let Kurt lead him from the room. Not that he likely could’ve stopped him from doing so anyway. He seemed pretty determined.
“What’s this about?” he asked as they headed for the stairs, half-laughing.
“I am a master of persuasion and convinced my dad to let you spend the night,” Kurt explained. “You’ll have to sleep on the couch as usual, of course, but at least this saves you the drive since you would’ve had to come straight back tomorrow morning anyway.”
As soon as they were safely inside Kurt’s bedroom, the door halfway shut behind them, Kurt all but pounced. He cupped both hands on the sides of Blaine’s face and brought their mouths together in a deep, getting-to-know-you kiss. Only, they’d known each other for a pretty long time.
When they broke apart for breath, Blaine said, “What’s going on?”
Kurt blinked a few times. “I was kissing you,” he said dryly. “You were kissing me?”
“But something about it was…”
They smiled at each other, but that wasn’t what Blaine meant.
“It’s always that,” he said, and Kurt did that thing where he halfway rolled his eyes at Blaine’s earnestness but was flushing all the way to his ears all the same. “But you seemed… intense.”
Kurt placed one hand on the side of Blaine’s neck, his gaze searching Blaine’s face. He pursed his lips together for a moment before he said, “I just… I’m going to miss this.”
And there it was. The elephant in the room. Months had dwindled down to days had dwindled down to mere hours. There was so little time. Blaine’s heart sank.
“Me too,” he said softly.
Kurt drew him in for another kiss, slow and deep, and this time Blaine understood what he was doing—he was trying to memorize the feel of their mouths together, every little detail, so he could remember it later. Blaine closed his eyes and tried to do the same. He didn’t think he could ever forget this.
Kissing like that made everything kind of blurry. Blaine wasn’t exactly sure how much time has passed when he finally disengaged with more than a little reluctance.
“Your dad…” he said, darting a glance to the half-open door.
“He’s not going to bother us tonight,” Kurt said.
“Did he say that?”
“It was unspoken. Implied.”
“Right,” Blaine said. “So I’m to believe he’s perfectly fine with you ravishing me right upstairs?”
“Blaine, please promise me this one thing,” Kurt said, very seriously. “Swear to me you will never, ever use the word ‘ravishing’ again.”
Blaine stuck out his lower lip in a mock pout. “What, you don’t want to ravish me? You don’t want to eat me right up, pookie?”
“Oh my god, Blaine,” Kurt groaned, “the only person who can pull off ‘pookie’ is Maureen Johnson.” He stepped away and sat on his bed, leaning back on his elbows. “And you had to go and bring up my dad. Mood officially ruined.”
He joined Kurt on the bed, scooting up to the headboard. Kurt followed suit so they were both lying on their sides, facing each other, only inches between them.
“Since we’re already on the subject, how’s your dad dealing with things?” Blaine asked.
“Okay, I think,” Kurt said after a moment. “He’s been trying to have us spend as much time together as we can before I leave. Last night he even sat through Cabaret with me.”
“How about you?” he said. “I know how close you guys are.”
Kurt shrugged. “It’ll be hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier knowing Carole is around to help take care of him. I’ll still worry, but it’s not like he’ll be on his own.” He went quiet for a minute. “I’m kind of afraid it’ll be different once I’m actually away. I’m so used to him being there all the time. What if I can’t actually handle it? I know that sounds so stupid—”
“Not stupid,” Blaine assured him. “If I had a dad like yours, I’d worry about the same thing. But you’ll be okay.”
“I hope so,” Kurt said, sounding less certain.
“Well, I know so,” Blaine said. “You’re Kurt Hummel. You can do anything.” He laced their fingers together, lifting Kurt’s hand to his mouth and kissing each knuckle in turn.
Kurt breathed out hard. “Is there any chance you’ve reconsidered the long distance option?”
Something in Blaine’s chest lurched. When he looked at Kurt and started to open his mouth, Kurt stopped him with a shake of his head.
“No, no, I know. I’m not trying to open up that can of worms again,” he said. “I know why we’re doing this. I just-- I hate it so much.”
“Me too,” Blaine agreed, voice so soft it was nearly a whisper.
They were quiet then, quiet and close and breathing.
“Maybe it’d be better,” Kurt said slowly, “if we give each other some space.”
Blaine frowned. “It’ll be six hundred miles between us. How much more space do you need?”
“I don’t mean that. I mean phone calls, emails, texting… maybe we should declare a moratorium,” Kurt said, and then hastily added, “Just temporarily. Until we’re… adjusted. It’s going to be hard, and I think—I think in some twisted kind of way cutting the cord for a little while will make it easier. Does that make any sense?”
Every cell in Blaine’s body recoiled at the thought, but it only took a minute for him to understand. He could imagine what might happen otherwise— Kurt getting homesick, clinging to the familiar if things got hard, and Blaine clinging right back because he was too afraid to flounder on his own. Blaine knew himself too well; he wasn’t going to be able to untangle himself from this unless it was a sink-or-swim situation. Kurt had the right idea.
“It makes sense,” he finally said. “If that’s what you need, if that’ll make it easier for you, then that’s what we should do.”
A choked sound came from Kurt, intended to be a laugh but edging on a sob. “God, I can’t believe we’re making plans to let go,” he said thickly.
“Is it sappy of me to want to quote Kate Winslet in Titanic right now?” Blaine said, trying to lighten things a little. He waggled his eyebrows for added effect.
“Yes, it is,” Kurt told him, “but you can go ahead and do it anyway, you cheeseball.”
He pitched his voice in an imitation of Rose Dawson’s hypothermia-induced raspiness. “I’ll never let go, Kurt,” he intoned, hoping to garner a smile out of it.
It worked, even if the smile didn’t quite reach Kurt’s eyes. Leaning in close, Blaine held Kurt’s face, kissed him.
“Hey,” he said lowly, tracing a thumb over Kurt’s jawline, “you still have me, okay? No matter what. Even if we’re stopping this, I’ll still—” Love you, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t, it hurt too much— “be here. Whenever you need me. That’s not going to change.”
Kurt looked ready to cry, but he held back. “It won’t for me, either. I promise.”
“Good,” Blaine said, pressing their foreheads together.
In a little while he’d have to move downstairs to the couch to sleep. A little while after that, he’d be dropping Kurt off at the airport, and things would officially be over. But that was later. For right now, he could tell himself this moment would stretch out forever, perfect and wonderful and never-ending. There was still some time left to pretend.
The next morning Blaine woke up to the sound of water running upstairs. A clumsy fumble for his cell phone on the coffee table informed him it was five minutes past six; Kurt had to be in the shower.
Blaine took the quilt he’d slept with and folded it neatly, draping it over the side of the couch, and then padded down the hall to the downstairs bathroom. His hair was rumpled from being slept on, and after a few minutes of trying to finger-comb it back into place, he gave up the futile attempt. He changed out of the silk pajama pants Kurt had lent him and back into yesterday’s dark jeans, scrubbed his face with a washcloth, tried to wake himself up the rest of the way.
It’d be a good half hour before Kurt was out of the shower and finished with his morning grooming rituals, so he decided to go for a coffee run. The line at the Lima Bean was long for a Saturday morning, and the barista was the new girl, slower than the others. Normally he wouldn’t mind the wait, but on today of all days, time was truly of the essence. When he rushed back to his car as quickly as he could without spilling on himself, righting both coffees in the cup holders, his phone started buzzing with a text from Kurt.
Where are you?
ran out for a surprise, he texted back. on my way back now.
You know I hate surprises.
you’ll like this one.
By the time Blaine got back to the house, Mr. Hummel and Carole were up too, making pancakes and scrambled eggs while Kurt leaned against the counter. His eyes lit up the second he spotted Blaine walking in, coffee in hand.
“Grande nonfat mocha,” Blaine announced as he passed it over. “Just the way you like it.”
“This,” Kurt said, pausing to take a brief sip, “is exactly what I needed. I keep telling them I’m too wound up to eat—”
“You’re having a real breakfast,” Carole insisted firmly. “No way are we putting you on a plane on an empty stomach.”
“Yeah, and all that caffeine’s not gonna help with your nerves, you know,” Mr. Hummel pointed out.
“Nothing short of a horse tranquilizer will help with that,” Kurt deadpanned, but he didn’t fight them on it any further, either.
They all sat down to eat (Finn wandering in a few minutes later, beckoned by the smell of frying pancake batter) as a family. Kurt babbled on about the day’s plans—Rachel had already called twice that morning and sent a million texts; she’d be picking him up from the airport, and her dads had already assembled the bedframe in his room, but there were still approximately a hundred boxes to unpack. Blaine half-listened to the conversation, pushing food back and forth across his plate listlessly. His stomach was too tied up in knots to leave room for an appetite.
He was half-heartedly spearing a stray piece of egg when he felt a hand on his knee under the table. Kurt’s. When he looked up, though, Kurt was telling Carole about the vegetarian diner down the block from their apartment Rachel was dying to take him to, gesturing animatedly with his fork in the other hand, not even looking at Blaine. He was just doing it because—because he could.
Suddenly Blaine was doing what he’d tried so hard not to do all summer: cataloguing everything in lasts, thinking about how much he was going to miss these fleeting, thoughtless displays of affection. He’d grown so used to having someone to place a hand on his knee or kiss his cheek or wrap an arm around his waist or hold his hand—and to have someone he could do the same to— that he’d started taking it for granted. Every little gesture felt so huge now. Weighted with the knowledge he wouldn’t have it tomorrow.
He covered Kurt’s hand with his own and squeezed lightly; Kurt glanced sideways at him, smiling, still talking. Blaine kept his hand there for the rest of the meal, because Kurt was there. Because he could.
As he helped Kurt lug his suitcase down the stairs, he heard Kurt in front of him softly singing a bit of Leaving On A Jet Plane—probably not even thinking Blaine would hear at all, but he did, and he thought, When will I hear him singing again? What if this is the last time?
The thought alone was enough to stop him dead in his tracks.
He was just glad Kurt couldn’t see him because if his face showed anything of how he felt on the inside, it would look like—however heartbreak looked.
There were so many things Blaine wanted to say during the drive to the airport. It was all jumbled in his head, though, and Mr. Hummel was sitting up front driving, so he settled for holding Kurt’s hand in his.
They waited in line together for Kurt to check in his luggage and pick up his ticket. And then they were walking to the security checkpoint. The furthest they could go with him.
Blaine hung back to give Mr. Hummel and Kurt their privacy as they said their goodbyes. He couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other, but they were both teary-eyed and smiling, and their last hug lasted a long time.
Finally Kurt faced him. Blaine opened his mouth to say something, but for all of his thinking on the ride over, he couldn’t find the words. Kurt didn’t seem to have any, either, because he just stared for a moment before rushing forward and throwing his arms around Blaine, pulling him in tightly.
“I am going to miss you so much,” he whispered into the curve of Blaine’s neck.
Blaine squeezed him harder. “I’ll miss you more.”
“I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Yes, you could’ve. This was always going to happen. It’s all you.”
Kurt kissed him full on the mouth then, tasting like tears. Maybe he didn’t care who saw, maybe he wasn’t even thinking about that. Blaine wanted it to go on forever, but too soon Kurt broke away, both hands cradling his cheeks.
“Don’t you know by now?” he said. “Blaine, you changed everything.”
They clung to each other for a minute more. It took all Blaine had to be the one who stepped away first.
“Go,” he said, making shooing motions with his hands, trying to smile, “get on your plane, conquer the world.”
Kurt walked over to the security line; Blaine watched him take off his shoes-- modest by Kurt standards-- and go through the metal detector. He watched him walk down the terminal, pause for one final backward glance, fingers wiggling in a wave goodbye, and then disappear around the corner. Out of sight.
Blaine’s eyes were swimming a little, and he started to turn away, but Mr. Hummel caught his upper arm. Tugged him into a hug. For a moment Blaine was too surprised to react, but Mr. Hummel’s arms were still holding on, so he let his body relax, planted his face into Mr. Hummel’s shoulder and stayed there.
After a while Mr. Hummel let go, but he set a solid hand on the back of Blaine’s neck the way Blaine imagined a dad would do. A good dad, not like his.
“Come on, kid,” he said to Blaine, a little gruffly, “let’s get out of here.”
When they got back to the Hummel-Hudson house, he left Mr. Hummel with a quick goodbye, climbed into his car at the foot of the drive and shut the door. He sat with his hands on the steering wheel, taking shuddery breaths to compose himself, and checked the time on his phone. Kurt would be thirty-some thousand feet in the air right now.
Blaine dialed the number before he could think too much about it. The call went straight to voice mail.
“Hey, Kurt,” he said, impressed with himself for how calm he sounded. “It’s me. I keep thinking about the things I should’ve said today. I just wanted to tell you… I know you’re nervous, but everything is going to be fine. Trust me, New York City isn’t going to know what hit it. You are… unbelievably talented and the strongest person I’ve ever met. If anyone can make it there, it’s you. So if you ever feel like giving up, even for a second, don’t. I know you can do this. I believe in you, so much. I guess that’s it. That’s all I wanted to say.”
He ended the call there and let his phone drop into the passenger seat. And then he couldn’t hold it in any longer— his head bent to the steering wheel, and he let the tears he’d pushed down all day bubble to the surface until he was bawling so uncontrollably hard his chest felt like it was caving in. He realized that as much as he had no right, he still felt abandoned. Once upon a time Kurt had told him he’d never say goodbye. He hadn’t used that word, neither of them had, but that’s what it was, and it hurt. It hurt in a way Blaine didn’t know he still could.
Inside, he could feel himself closing off or closing up, as if something in him had already decided he would never love anything in his life as much again. He tried to imagine how he’d ever sing again when right now he couldn’t even breathe.
It took another fifteen minutes before he’d stopped sobbing hard enough to be able to drive.
He told himself it couldn’t hurt like this forever. It felt like a lie.