WARNING: small glimpses of mental illness, suicide attempt, dark!Karofsky, and domestic abuse, and the continued abuse of italics which is so prominent in this 'verse.
Watch the Years Go By-
One day in August, Kurt Hummel disappeared.
The Hummel-Hudson family puts out flyers with Kurt's face on them, a snapshot taken by Mercedes one day at school. His nose is scrunched up a bit, but he's smiling like he's just heard something scandalous.
"It was the hats," Mercedes says, swiping at her nose as she sniffles into a Kleenex. "I told them they were hideous-I mean, who wears something like that to a wedding, anyway?"
"The British do, Mercedes," he'd answered. "And they look fabulous doing it."
Burt spends his off days-and even some of the days he should be at the garage-wandering aimlessly through his son's room, touching his things to be closer to him.
Carole dusts down there on the weekends, but the room still looks like an abandoned derelict with no one there to call it home.
Sitting at the vanity table, Kurt peered up at his dad curiously. There was a surprise party waiting for him upstairs. Burt just had to get him out of the basement before the ice cream melted.
When the Navigator is finally released, it gets parked at the garage, though the keys are thrown in the little bowl on the kitchen counter where they'd been stored since Kurt got the car two years ago.
Burt keeps it washed and clean, even if it never goes anywhere to get dirty, and methodically checks it over every week to make sure nothing's malfunctioned in the time it's been sitting there. Sometimes he searches extra carefully between the seats, hoping that some lost clue will pop up if he looks hard enough.
Kurt actually squealed when Burt tossed him the keys. It was his first car. Burt can remember the excitement over the first car he'd gotten. Of course, he'd saved up for two years to get one by senior year, but the garage was doing good and he figured his kid deserved a bit of happiness that year. It wasn't as if Burt hadn't noticed how guarded he'd become.
Azimio finds a new best friend. Karofsky falls into a funk and quits the football team. He gets what Kurt got-slurs, looks, Slushies, and shoves. It doesn't last long.
Puck and Karofsky get in a fight at school. Not the kind that, say, Finn and Sam get into, but a real fight, with fists flying and blood drawn. Puck goes back to juvie. Karofsky starts going to night school. The Glee Club isn't the only one who thinks he had something to do with Kurt's disappearance.
Puck accidentally dialed Kurt's number while drunk one night. The words that fell out of his mouth were lewd, dirty, and he knew he sounded hot, even if he swayed with every breath he took.
Kurt's voice came over the line all breathless when he said, "Puck?"
The next day it was as if it never happened. Phone sex isn't real sex, anyway.
Rachel writhes in Finn's arms, begging, pleading to go further.
He draws back to look at her, confused.
"But I thought-"
"Please, Finn," she gasps before kissing him again, hard, and she cries a bit as she does. "I just knew never knew how easy it is to lose somebody."
"That sweater is awful," are the first words Kurt Hummel said to Rachel Berry at the beginning of their freshman year.
The football players threw him in the dumpster the next morning; she tried not to feel too smug about it.
When she got Slushie'd between classes, he told her it improved her outfit.
The more his history professor speaks, the more his words become a jumbled, chaotic mess in Blaine Anderson's head. So he gets up, leaves his books behind, and drives to the nearest airport. He has only his clothes and his wallet with him, the credit card his parents gave him for college paying his way to France.
He doesn't go to Paris.
"It's the city of love, Blaine," Kurt said.
Two of them were sitting on Kurt's bed, their backs against the headboard, as they planned the two week vacation Blaine would be taking before starting his college classes.
Blaine smiled at him and laced their hands together. "I don't want to go without you."
When Finn graduates from high school, his parents hug him, tears shining in their eyes.
"I'm so, so proud of you," his mom says as she reaches up, way up, to stroke at the hair falling in his eyes.
Burt looks wistfully beside him, and Finn knows he's picturing Kurt there.
Finn knew his stepbrother always aced his French tests, so thought nothing of going to him for help with the Spanish homework Mr. Schue had sprung on the class that Friday. Kurt rolled his eyes, but patted the bed for Finn to sit.
A year ago, this would have been weird and creepy. Now Finn thought nothing of waking up sprawled across the end of Kurt's bed, his face stuck to a piece of notebook paper, while Kurt snored lightly beside him.
In a house across town, Kurt is lead blinking into a brightly lit hallway, where the moonlight streams through one of the open windows as if it was the middle of the day. Dave shuts the curtains and grasps his hand. He's parked his car practically at Mrs. Agnew's front porch.
Kurt stands there swaying and half-mad, fiddling with the sunglasses in his hands until Dave takes them away and slides them on his face, covering his long hair with a baseball cap.
The first time Finn drove Kurt's car, he sat in the front seat for fifteen minutes before he could bring himself to put the key in the ignition, and another ten to put it into reverse so he could back out of the driveway.
He felt like a car thief.
The covers on Kurt's bed were still tucked into a bed no one ever slept in.
Quinn goes to community college like she always planned. There's a small bit of ache in her heart, though, when she steps through the doors. There was always this small bit of hope in the back of her mind that she'd get out of this town and do something better, be something better than the cookie cutter mold she was pouring herself into.
Real estate isn't her passion. There's no life in it-she doesn't feel like she's living.
Her hands had skimmed across Kurt's once when he'd handed her a book in the library. His skin was pale and smooth, soft enough for any girl to envy. She opened her mouth to ask his secret but one of the guys from the football team was there, looking lost, so she tossed her head, lifted her nose, and marched past Kurt without even saying thank you.
Mercedes goes to community college, too, with plans to study music, but she hops around from state to state, as if searching.
"I am," she tells Finn one night over the phone when he asks her about it, tears clogging her voice. "He's the only thing I'm searching for."
It was Kurt's idea to pay the football team back. He and Artie snuck the school yearbook out of the library and holed up together at Artie's house after school with a packet of permanent markers at hand.
By the time Artie slipped the book out of his jacket and back onto the shelf, the whole team was wearing coordinated Princess dresses and their individual pictures decorated with Hitler mustaches, exaggerated mullets, and blacked out teeth glaring from every head shot.
Finn's head drops into his hand as Rachel bathers on about New York and her latest round of auditions. She'd skipped college entirely, not wanting to waste any time getting started on her 'fabulous Broadway career.'
Finn loves her, he does, but sometimes she's just a little too manic for him to keep up with and she loses him midway.
Kurt confessed to Finn one day that he'd purposely blown the high F in the infamous Diva Off against Rachel.
Puck starts up a heat and air business for the seasons when pool cleaning just isn't enough to pay the bills. He has an apartment on the edge of town. It's not fancy, but he likes it.
When Finn asks why he's so hell-bent on going to New York, hoarding his money to do it, Puck just shrugs, why not?
" It's New York!" Kurt clasped his hands together, a big grin on his face. His Aunt Mildred had chipped in some generous birthday money to let him tag along. He couldn't sing with New Directions, though, just enjoy the city with them.
That stupid, furry hat on his head looked ready to spring to life and run off to procreate, but Puck couldn't bring himself to snark about it. New York was pretty awesome.
New Directions just wasn't the same without the core group of kids Will had started with. Sure, the new group was great, they just didn't have the same fire as the others had. No pushy Rachel Berry demanding attention, no cocky Puck to shake things up, or Lauren to 'keep things real'. And no Kurt. No, flashy, flamboyant Kurt, always pushing Will's buttons.
Will excuses himself during Katie's solo, fighting to keep a wave of regret from overwhelming him.
"Just don't look at him," Carole said, taking Kurt firmly by the arm and turning him away from the bully's piercing stare.
Her shoulders didn't ease up until Karofsky was out the door and far away.
Burt and Carole's lives fall back into its normal routine, almost against their will. Neither want to forget Kurt-they can't forget Kurt-but life has to go on. She still cleans the basement bedroom, though. What if Kurt comes home and finds all his things covered with dust?
It was just a paper cut. Only a little blood spilled onto his coloring book, but to Kurt, it was the end of the world. He bawled his eyes out until Liz promised him sparkly band-aids and extra kisses.
Burt laughed when Kurt proudly held out his glitter-covered hand and said, "Look, Daddy, sparkly."
"Yeah, that's sparkly, all right." He hefted Kurt into his arms and found Liz behind the couch trying to pick glitter out of the carpet.
Kurt planned for the McKinley prom the moment the girls approached him about it during the summer. He knew exactly what he wanted to wear. He just wished it weren't so far away.
Burt finds the planner in one of Kurt's drawers. It's filled with pictures of guys in tuxedos, and at first Burt thinks he's stumbled onto some kind of porn scrapbook or something. His son could be a bit strange sometimes, gay or not, so he figures it's not as ridiculous an idea as it probably sounds.
It's not until he sees that one of the pages has girls on it in various tight, revealing party dresses that he realizes-Kurt was planning on going to a dance with a girl.
Brittany's head is pasted on all of the models' bodies.
"Oh my God."
Kurt buried his head in his hands as his dad flailed about. He was either having a seizure or trying to dance, it was kind of hard to tell.
Kurt rescued the poor woman he 'danced' with and sat the man down, running off to find him something other than alcohol to drink.
"Blaine, if you don't come home right now, I'm cancelling your credit cards. I mean it this time. Son, please, just...tell us where you are."
Spain. Italy. Vietnam. It doesn't matter. Kurt isn't in any of them. He doesn't even know who he's kissing right now.
Blaine missed his curfew that night, and his parents yelled at him. They refused to believe that he'd break a rule over a fashion magazine, even though they both knew how addicted he was to Vogue.
Kurt picks himself off the floor, wipes at the blood on his mouth, and blindly makes his way down the hall. The sight of the bathroom's bright lights are comforting, the enclosed space under the shelf of towels even better. He curls up in the closet with his knees drawn tightly to his chest and the door slightly ajar to keep away the dark.
Kurt's mom put glow in the dark stickers on his wall when he was little, and he used to stare at them for what seemed like ages, until he finally fell asleep. After she died, he took them down and stored them away in a box labeled 'the stars and the moon'.
Finn and Rachel break up. Again.
Carole hears a voice in the supermarket that makes her head snap up and whip around so fast she'll have a crick in it for the next couple of days.
It's not Kurt, of course it's not, which makes the ache in her heart even more bitter. She spends the day at Finn's place, cleans his apartment, makes his dinner, then goes home to cry on Burt's shoulder.
During the very brief time of Kurt and Blaine's breakup, which last exactly three days and thirty minutes, Carole and Kurt sat on the couch eating fattening ice cream and making fun of all the clichés piled into the one romantic comedy they watched as the ice cream they ate melted on their tongues.
Santana dates a series of girls, from bottled blondes to girls with the darkest satiny skin. Her waitress job is short lived; she can't keep herself from insulting the customers. But the girls she hooks up like her attitude, find her a dangerous liaison, but nothing ever comes of anything any of them do together.
For the McKinley group's first prom, Kurt helped his girls pick out their dresses. Even Santana and the new girl Lauren tagged along for his advice. Brittany looked a lot like Tinkerbelle, and Santana's red dress complimented her skin tone perfectly. He wishes, once again, that he could go.
The first time Quinn steps into church, the young minister catches her eye. She glances quickly away, feeling the blush heat her cheeks. Surely it's a sin to be checking out your minister, especially in the very church he presided over.
He asks her out two months later, and it's the best date she's had in a very long time.
Everything has a calorie count, Kurt discovered before he even hit high school. His dad frowned at him when he first started to obsess over them, but it soon became just another thing that separated Kurt from the other boys, just another thing his dad didn't understand, so let fly under his radar like the skirt Kurt made for himself and the wedding magazines he stored under his bed.
Artie's legs don't work, but that doesn't mean he can't play basketball like any other guy. Columbus is a lot bigger than Lima and has a lot more options, like a college sports team for people like him. And at least here, he's not known as one of the friends of that gay kid. He misses Kurt, he does, but he'd rather just forget and move on. He didn't like the pang of guilt he felt whenever that name was mentioned. It hurt.
Dave spent the night surfing the net, looking at sites that he'd erase from its history before he logged off. This was all just a test. He'd see what he needed to see and that would be that. He was definitely straight. Definitely.
He'd just save this one site for...archival purposes. That's right. Because he was definitely straight.
Rachel gets more than a bit part for a Broadway show. It's not a huge part, she's not a star, not yet, but this just proves that she will be.
She and Finn aren't dating anymore-too much distance-but they talk on the phone a lot. He's happy for her...and for Kurt, 'cause her success is for him as much as for herself. She's been working hard these past three years for both of them. Someday, when she's won her first of many Tonys, she'll make speeches with his name on her lips.
When they sang on stage that day, it was like they were in another world, one were they were both stars. Tears were in their eyes at the end. One day, it'd be them up there.
Burt starts avoiding Kurt's room. It hurts too much. But he keeps a school photo in his wallet and a baby photo on the mantle, just so he can look sometimes. There used to be one on his desk of Kurt and Mercedes smiling at the camera together, until one of his customers had looked at it and gasped, "Isn't that that boy?"
After that, he kept it laying face down on the desk but couldn't quite bring himself to shut it away in one of the drawers.
Kurt and Blaine spent a lot of the summer in each other's arms, usually at Blaine's house because his parents were away more. They'd gone beyond kissing a few months ago, but this would be there first time going even further. Kurt sighed against Blaine's bare shoulder and closed his eyes.
Mercedes finally buckles down and starts studying for real this time. She wants to get a degree in music and maybe teach on the side. One of the teachers say that maybe next year she can use one of the local high school's classroom to host some kind of after school program. She smiles, thinking how horrified Kurt would be at even the thought of stepping back into a high school after finally escaping it.
Even now, she can picture his face in her mind and know just what expression he'd make. There'd be a sneer on his lips brought on by bad memories of the bullying he'd had to endure, and his chin would lift a little higher. Still, she knows he'd support her decision. That's what friends did, right?
The bruise on his back was square shaped and black. He couldn't even remember what, exactly, he'd hit. He'd been shoved into to many things lately to know.
"-and Lube...hello? Who's there? Goddam it-"
Kurt blinks down at the phone in his hand, not sure how it got there. The door opens and Maya steps inside with a bag of groceries in one arm. She stops dead when she sees him.
"Karofsky? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?" She knows he doesn't leave his own apartment.
Kurt looks back down at the phone. It sits in its cradle, though he doesn't remember putting it there.
A five hundred dollar phone bill gets his phone taken away. He has to work in his dad's shop for the whole summer until it's paid off. Kurt grumbles about not getting to talk to Blaine as much but works hard. He even gets the phone back sooner than anticipated.
Dave doesn't let the guys he works with see what Kurt looks like. He'd taken pictures before, not many but there were a few snapshots floating around the apartment somewhere. Some were of the two of them together. Most were of Kurt as he puttered around the house, unaware that Dave was taking them-sometimes just unaware altogether.
The second time Rachel'd drunk dialed Blaine, he handed the phone to Kurt, who lectured her on the evils of drunkenness until her head started to hurt.
Kurt had sniffed haughtily afterwards and said, "You should have given me the phone the first time this happened, if that was all it took."
Blaine shook his head. Kurt was never going to let that go.
When Burt and Carole decided to move, they gave Finn the house. Burt couldn't bear to have other people living there, not with Kurt's room still set up in the basement as if waiting for his boy to come home.
Rachel finally gets a lead part. Unfortunately, it's not Broadway, but she's surprisingly serene about.
"Next time," she tells Finn over the phone. Because she's got an abundance of time, time Kurt never got.
Finn goes to New York to surprise her, and they go to her place after the show. Making love doesn't mean they're back together, though it does make them miss the time that they were a couple. But he's too much of a Lima guy to stay with her. And she's too invested in New York to leave.
All Kurt saw before him was a sea of leopard print. It covered Mercedes from head to toe. He had no idea where she got the fabric and, really, he didn't want to know. It didn't matter where it came from-it needed to be burned. As quickly as possible.
Mercedes finds Ted at a little coffee shop in the city. It's funny, she thinks. Kurt and Blaine used to spend so much of their time in coffee shops after school and now here she is starting up her own relationship in one.
Middle school was really where it all started. Sure, he was picked on in elementary school, but middle school had a viciousness to it that the earlier grades had lacked. It's also where the jocks seemed to form and he became their number one target. It wouldn't be until high school that Finn Hudson's one gesture of kindness makes him fall in love, but in middle school, they were all the same, one entity he could never quite sort out.
Quinn gets married in the little church she fell in love in. Her baby boy is in a carriage nearby, her parents nowhere to be seen. They haven't spoken since she called to tell them she was pregnant and unmarried, once again. They didn't care that this time, she's in love. An engagement ring was already on her finger when she called them.
A wedding ring gets slipped on her finger next to it. The diamond is small and she thinks it might be fake, but it's still beautiful to her.
"No, no, no," Kurt said imperiously. "Those colors would be horrendous together."
He takes the magazine away from Rachel and hands her a thick notebook.
"If you must plan yours and Finn's as of yet nonexistent wedding, I insist you take a look at what I have planned for my own wedding-but, please, no copying. You could never pull off this amount of fabulousness."
The first phone call was like a slap in the face. But he got used to them after a while. He just couldn't let his dad know about them. He'd worry so much and Kurt didn't want that. So he fielded them as best he could and tried to let all the words roll off him.
'Sticks and stones,' became the mantra he chanted under breath after each hateful call.
Blaine spends a drunken weekend in Germany. He wakes up in a stranger's bed, not an unusual occurrence these days, to find his wallet gone and one of his shoes missing. He finds the wallet on the ground outside the apartment's door, his money and credit cards tucked neatly into their appropriate slots. He never does find his missing shoe.
Doc Martens were Kurt's favorite choice of footwear. He had a row of boots in his closet that he worked hard to buy. He didn't collect shoes, though. Far from it. He just loved his boots. His favorite pair went to Dalton with him, even though he couldn't wear them with his uniform.
He wasn't allowed to during school hours, and they didn't go with the uniform, anyway.
Mike and Tina move in together. His mother is their worst critic, but neither of them care. Mike has grown away from her these past few years, especially since leaving Lima, and doesn't cling to the mold she tries to make him from.
"What am I, a handbag?" Kurt snarked when Santana brought it up.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Look, twinkle toes, I don't like it any more than you do. But if having a gay best friend is this year's Prada handbag, I will personally sew you up and toss you over my shoulder like a runway model on crack if I have to. Comprende?"
Kurt grimaced when she latched forcefully onto his arm. "Si, Diablo."
"Don't make me smack you."
Puck saves up enough money to move out of Lima just in time for his mother to come down with a major case of the flu. He takes care of his little sister while she's in the hospital and winds up moving back home so the bills get paid. His landlord is a nice enough guy to let him out of his lease. New York will just have to wait another year.
"I don't get colds," Kurt muttered from under the handkerchief pressed against his mouth.
"You're such a liar," Puck shot back. "Eat some soup or something."
Kurt rolled his eyes. "I had no idea it was so easy. How ever would I cope on my own?"
For the first time, Burt seriously considers letting go, giving up. All the leads the police have ever had wound being dead ends. Dead. Just like his son most likely is. He's denied it to himself all these years but now it sinks in, hard, and he knows he has to deal.
Still...he can't do declare Kurt dead anymore than he can clear the basement of his things. Maybe he'll pretend just a little while longer.
Pretend, Kurt told himself. Pressed into goo at the bottom of the dumpster made it rather hard to do, but if he closed his eyes hard enough and tired to ignore the smell, he could do it just fine. One day, he'd be out of Lima. Those guys out there would kill to make the money he would make. As soon as he got out of Lima, he'd be a star.
Dave finds Kurt sitting on the edge of the bathtub with a razor pressed against the inside of his wrist. He slaps it away and hits him over and over and over. But it's okay. Kurt knows he only does it because he's scared.
Kurt saw Blaine off at the airport. He wished they could hold each or at least kiss one last time before he goes, but they were still in Lima, Ohio, where he'd probably have gotten jumped in the parking lot afterwards just for showing a little affection to the person he loves. He sighed regretfully once Blaine passed out of sight.
It was the last time they saw each other for a very long time.
Kurt stares up at Puck and slides down the wall of the bathtub with a hurt, confused look on his battered face. Puck's torn between hugging him and crying. He opts for crying. Kurt looks like a hug might shatter him.
He tries to ask questions but all he gets is that heart wrenching stare, so he fumbles in his pockets for his cell phone, his hand shaking so hard he has to dial twice.
Letting out a heavy breath, Pucks says, "Mrs. Hummel...he's here. I found him."
Even through her stunned silence, he knows she understands perfectly.
In the bathtub, Kurt starts crying.