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Sotto Voce

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It had been weeks since the crush, since the nightly babysitting of tanks of fermenting juice, of staying up into the early morning hours to push the rising cap of wine must back down and through the tanks of Rhapsody's youngest vintage.

Kurt stayed up with Blaine most nights, and visited other wineries undergoing the same process by day. Within a couple of weeks — the bulk of fermentation behind it — the winery undertook a second round of intensive labor. Blaine oversaw the pressing of juice off the skins so it could be poured into freshly cleaned tanks and barrels for a first racking, letting it rest for a couple of months before it was strained off and poured anew into a fresh set of tanks and barrels.

This was the treasured down time — though every winery had plenty to do while its maturing wines took a winter's rest, especially Rhapsody.

Kurt used the free time to edit and polish some lingering columns, and convinced Blaine to step away from the tanks and the computer long enough to venture out to some of the region's more obscure tasting rooms, or to enjoy a picnic by the reservoir. He impressed himself with his negotiating skills, betting Blaine a night in San Francisco and a blowjob that Quinn would insist on last-minute copy within 24 hours of Thanksgiving. To his professional consternation but personal delight, he won the bet.

Otherwise, Blaine spent time with a topographic map and his laptop, and began planning the vineyard extension on his new property. He also visited UC Davis several times, interviewing prospects to replace Diego, none of whom quite fit the bill. They were plenty bright, and some were exceptionally talented, but he had yet to meet someone whom he felt had the feel for managing a vineyard, and who didn't have ambitions to leave for a bigger name and a bigger paycheck in a few years' time.

After a particularly long day of errands and interviews, he came home to find Kurt in the guest house on his computer, appearing to be hard at work.

"Got a minute?" he asked.

"Always," Kurt said, snapping the laptop shut.

"I was thinking... It's the quiet season, and almost the holidays." He walked into the room and  leaned against the wall. "The first push is done, and I've got the plan for the new vineyard finished."

"That's great, Blaine."

"So I was thinking that we should take some time off together. We should get away, maybe over the holidays."

Kurt looked at him, but didn't respond.

"We could head down the coast, like you talked about in August, maybe go to Big Sur or Carmel."

Kurt remained impassive, paying attention, but not reacting.

"Or we could go to the city, spend the holidays in San Francisco or LA if you're missing that."

Kurt's chin dipped.

"Or we could do something bigger. We could do sunshine — Hawaii, or Mexico — whatever you want, Kurt."

"Blaine..."

"I just think it would be good for us to have some time together, without work..."

"Blaine..."

"Wherever you want to go, Kurt..."

"Blaine, stop. I've been meaning to talk to you about this." 

Kurt's eyes stayed riveted to Blaine's nose, falling just shy of eye contact. 

"I'm going home for the holidays."

Blaine's eyes shone bright with frenetic energy, but his body slumped slightly.

"New York?"

"No — Ohio," Kurt walked over to Blaine, taking his hand. "I haven't seen my family in nearly a year, and my dad's been dropping hints."

"I see."

"Don't read too much into it, Blaine. I just don't want to let them down."

Blaine dropped the subject. 

He didn't raise it again, but his mood turned decidedly cloudy over the next few weeks.  He retreated into himself, once again becoming that quiet, volatile man Kurt had first met on Rhapsody's dirt access road. 

****

Kurt had 12 hours before his 8 a.m. flight, and was still figuring out how to pack a winter wardrobe into his smallish hard-sided suitcase. Between concentrating on squeezing just one more sweater into the luggage and the music playing on his laptop, he neither saw nor heard Blaine walk up behind him.

"I love this song," Blaine said.

His music feed had queued up some old, acoustic Pearl Jam. It wasn't exactly Kurt's regular playlist, Blaine thought. Kurt's music was the sound of the city, of thumping beats and sing-along pop, of dance clubs and catwalks. Blaine knew that when he wasn't around, Kurt often queued up club music. He'd seen it in the recent history on his satellite feed when he came home at night. But acoustic rock? Songs like this were in his playlist, not Kurt's.

"I'm never quite sure if it's sad or hopeful," Kurt said wistfully. "But it always kind of reminds me of that vineyard of yours."

If the song was a surprise to Blaine, the commentary was a shock. The song wasn't accidental.

"Maybe because it sounds rustic," Blaine responded, taking the safe route.

Kurt nodded. "Maybe that's it," he said, returning his attention to the overpacked suitcase.

Blaine folded his arms across his chest, perhaps listening to the song but concentrating on the neatly-packed Tumi.

"Kurt?"

"Hmm?"

"Let me take you to the airport."

"I booked a car."

"Cancel the car."

"It's not necessary. You have other things to do."

"Not really."

"It's early."

"I'm used to it."

Satisfied that he had finally compiled both a wardrobe that would work as well as one as well as one that would allow the bag to shut, Kurt closed the case and set it on the floor.

"Blaine, I'll make you a deal. Sleep in. Enjoy your down time. And if you really want to, you can pick me up for my return flight."

Blaine paused to briefly consider his words, but dove headlong despite his better judgement into the question that had eaten at him for weeks.

"Is there a return flight?"

"What?" Kurt turned to stand face-to-face with Blaine. "Of course there's a return flight. This is a holidays-with-the-family trip. My assignment's not even over yet."

Kurt raised his hand to Blaine's forehead, playing with a uncooperative curl, twirling it in his fingers. 

"Will you tell me what's wrong? What's going on in there?" he asked, tapping Blaine's forehead with his index finger. "Do we need to talk about this?"

Blaine reached around Kurt's back and slowly pulled him closer, until he could rest his chin to Kurt's shoulder. But he said nothing. They stood like that for a moment while Blaine sought comfort and Kurt searched for reassuring words.

"I'm back in 12 days — January 3rd." Kurt said. "And on January 4th, I'm meeting with my boss in Napa. Does that sound like someone who's not coming back?"

Blaine pulled his head back, finally making eye contact.

"Quinn's here?"

"The one and only. She'll be in San Francisco for New Year's and then she's heading over here for a couple of meetings — including one with me."

"What about?"

"We do this every year. It's her chance to put me in the hot seat and quiz me about whether I have a plan for the future. This time, it's a little earlier than usual because she's in town."

"Is this where that contest of yours came from?"

"You got it."

"And this time?"

The question chilled a conversation that had only started to thaw.

"She'll want to know what my plans are beyond the Year in the Valley project."

Blaine looked down again, taking a deep breath.

"And do you know what that is?"

"I always seem to figure something out."

Blaine pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his index finger, and sighed. It wasn't the answer he was looking for.

"Maybe we do need to talk. Maybe we should have talked about this months ago," he finally blurted out. 

"Blaine?"

"Do you have any idea what your plans are? Have you talked to Quinn about it at all? Apparently not. Have we talked about it? No. But did you talk about getting back to your regular duties in your column? Yes. What am I supposed to think? We finally have a chance to spend some time together — without work — and you up and leave."

"It's the holidays, Blaine. My family..."

"And I'll be spending the holidays alone. Let me ask you something. Do I embarrass you?"

"What?"

"Do they even know about me?"

"What are you talking about?"

Blaine shut his eyes, and shook his head as he let it out.

"Is this just how you're biding time? Is this thing between us just stop-gap?"

"What? No! Where are you getting these ideas?"

"I would have gone with you, you know. I told you we could go anywhere you wanted. If that was Ohio, fine. I would have gone. But you didn't even ask, Kurt."

Speechless, Kurt's jaw went slack. He blinked, and shook his head in a way that made clear that Blaine's words had their intended impact..

"But it's Ohio. I didn't think..."

"No. You didn't," Blaine said, his voice icy.

"But there's the phone and text and Skype. Can we just, not... not do this? I don't want to spend our last night together for a couple of weeks fighting." His voice softened. "Please?"

Kurt lifted Blaine's chin with his hand, so he could look into his eyes, but Blaine wouldn't meet his gaze. 

"Please, Blaine."

He kissed him gently, hand on chin, eyes open. 

Blaine didn't respond, not at first.

But as Kurt pulled back, Blaine raised his hand to cup Kurt's cheek, and pulled him back slowly, brushing their noses together. He stayed there, breathing Kurt in, until he finally tilted his head just slightly, giving him room for his lips to glance across Kurt's mouth. They scarcely touched at first, but he gave in to the slow, comfortable build. They gradually deepened the kiss, Kurt persistently licking at Blaine's lips, a request to open that stopped short of urgent but surged well past gentile. When they broke apart, Blaine kept his eyes closed for an extra beat.

"I'm sorry we're not spending the holidays together. But you know what? Maybe this is what we need," Kurt said, his tone gentle. "Maybe we could use a few days to clear our heads and think. And when I come back, we'll sit down and sort this thing out. Just not right now, okay? Can't we just be tonight? Please?"

Blaine nodded slowly. his face focused on some unspoken thing. His mind had wandered off and his eyes drifted blankly to a corner of the room for several moments before he finally spoke. 

"Kurt?"

"Yeah?"

Kurt drew soft circles on Blaine's back — a silent, successful effort to calm him. His quiet response showed that his emotions were back on level ground, even if his thoughts seemed to have moved on to another neighborhood.

"The next time you listen to Aretha Franklin, could you stick to the uptempo stuff?"

The playlist had shifted to a bittersweet ballad, a song that begged for an embrace, a teary slow dance. 

Just let me love you tonight 

Forget about tomorrow 

My darling

Won't you hold me tight 

And never let 

Never let me go 

Kurt's arms wrapped around Blaine's waist, gliding in comforting strokes along Blaine's spine. He rested his chin on Blaine's shoulder and let the song wash over them. 

"You don't like this song?" he said, drawing a line of baby kisses along Blaine's neck. 

Dry your eyes 

No tears no sorrow 

Cling to me 

With all your might 

And never let me go 

Blaine rolled his head back, granting Kurt unencumbered access and a strong hint for more, taking a deep breath.

"I love Aretha," he murmured. "But so... damned... sad."

A million times or more 

We said we'd never never never never part 

Oh but lately 

Lately I find 

That you're a stranger 

A stranger in my heart 

Blaine let his hand drift slowly downward, gliding over Kurt's ear, caressing his neck, finally resting flat against Kurt's chest, his fingers trailing along the seams of the button placket on Kurt's snug shirt.

"Kiss me," Kurt sighed.

He nipped at Blaine's jaw, tonguing at the evening stubble that had laid claim to his cheeks. He followed it to Blaine's mouth, parting Blaine's insistent lips with his tongue, moaning as he deepened his kiss. He pulled away just briefly, long enough to breathe out his words.

"Undress me," he whispered.

Blaine's fingers danced a staccato rhythm down Kurt's shirt, popping free button after button until he reached Kurt's waist. Blaine brought his other hand around to make fast work of Kurt's belt buckle, then popped the brass button atop Kurt's jeans free.

With one finger, he traced along the zipper — down, then up, then down again until his palm settled and squeezed.

"Don't tease me," Kurt murmured.

His hand glided back to the top of the zipper, and pulled. He looked into Kurt's eyes.

"Bed," Kurt insisted.

He stepped back to the mattress pulling Blaine along with him and sat, leaning back as Blaine kneeled down alongside his legs. Blaine started with Kurt's shoes, then socks, then pulled his own T-shirt over his head as Kurt began to wiggle out of his jeans. Blaine stopped him, covering Kurt's hands with his own. 

"Let me."

Give me give me give me 

Give me the right 

In summer or in springtime 

To tell the world 

That you're all and you're every bit of mine 

And you'll never 

Oh never let me go 

No you'll never let me go

****

Kurt slapped at the nightstand to try to keep his 4 a.m. alarm from waking Blaine. He climbed gingerly out of bed, waited to turn on the bathroom light until he had shut the door behind him and dressed in the dark in clothes he had set out the night before.

He stepped quietly from the house when the car arrived an hour later without trying to rouse Blaine from his slumber. Kurt would call later instead, and let him know that he had arrived in Ohio safely.

Only when he heard the front door close and the car drive away did Blaine allow himself to open his eyes and pull Kurt's pillow tight to his chest.

****

It was the first time in memory that Blaine resented having down time, though he did his best to fill it.

He actively looked for things to keep himself busy, tinkering with equipment and rearranging furniture. He began work on the new section of the vineyard, plowing and tapering and setting markers for irrigation. He spent Christmas with Diego and his family, who had insisted that Blaine not eat alone on the holiday.

He called his brother, who was talkative but poor company, and put in a perfunctory call to his parents, who were vacationing in France. 

He spent considerable time on the Square — if not in Santana's office, then in his favorite bar, sipping Scotch and chatting with Patty and other locals. 

He rationalized his leaving Kurt alone to his family time and to his thoughts as following Kurt's advice. He made an exception for Christmas, which started with a text and ended with a long but subdued phone call, and New Year's Eve, when he took Kurt's call amid the noise of a party on the Square.

A day later, Kurt texted him again.

2:28p Kurt: Sober?

2:30p Blaine: Indeed.

2:31p Kurt: Recovered?

2:33p Blaine: Not funny.

2:34p Kurt: :/

2:35p Blaine: I'm fine.

2:37p Kurt: About the airport...

2:37p Blaine: yes?

2:40p Kurt: don't worry about picking me up.

2:40p Blaine: ??

2:41p Kurt: Q bumped up our mtg

2:41p Blaine: ??

2:44p Kurt: staying in SF on the 3rd. getting ride w/Q next day. see you on the 4th.

****

Of all the times Kurt had visited The Palace Hotel — for tastings, banquets, interviews and an array of overstuffed events — he had never seen it so quiet. The historic hotel, usually abuzz with business deals and black tie events, appeared to be suffering its own post New Year's hangover. It made it easy to spot Quinn, blonde hair pulled back into a sleek chignon and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in her well-manicured fingertips.

"Just in time for lunch," she said, smiling and standing, awaiting her welcome hug.

"I ate on the plane — unfortunately," Kurt said. "But I'll have one of those," he added to the waiter, pointing at Quinn's wine glass.

They talked pleasantries, holiday tales and family run-ins, killing time reestablishing the well-honed rhythm of their conversations.

"So, how is he?" 

"Hmm?"

"Your winemaker."

"That may require another round," Kurt mumbled.

"Trouble in paradise?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I guess so. Maybe." 

Kurt shook his head and scratched at his temple.

"It was so easy at first. We just slipped into this... life. We didn't really talk about the fact that it... that..."

"That it's finite?"

Quinn cut to the quick, leaving Kurt stunned and silent.

"Sweetie, we all make that mistake. We've got a present that's so bright that we don't think about the future, or when we realize that the future may take us in an unexpected direction, we set it aside. But let me tell you from experience, the longer you put it off, the worse it's going to be."

"I get the feeling we're not talking about Blaine any more," he said. "You going to see her?"

"Absolutely. We're good now, Kurt. We talked things out in June, put it all on the table. It got ugly for a while there."

"And?"

"And then it got pretty damn beautiful."

"You're not..."

"We did, but we're not any more. Call it a sweet goodbye — making up for the last time. We both know it won't work, but at least we ended it right this time. You know, sometimes the happy ending is knowing that it was good while it lasted, and ending it well."

"Oh god."

"Kurt?"

"You think I need to end it?"

"Weren't you always intending to?"

****

Their lunch became dinner, their conversation spanning hours and meals and drinks.

And when Kurt prepared to leave, to go home to Sonoma, Quinn insisted on a little more, some quality time shopping. She monopolized his day, turning Kurt into her personal Sherpa of Union Square.

He took advantage of a moment alone while Quinn shopped the Agent Provocateur boutique to try to reach Blaine, but he didn't pick up his phone or answer texts. At least he would know about the delay, Kurt thought.

Hours later, the day largely shot and the sun sinking in the west, Quinn summoned her driver.

"You don't mind if he drops me off first?" she asked, though Kurt knew it wasn't a question at all. So they detoured to the Carneros Inn before circling back to Sonoma. The sky was dark and clouding over by the time they pulled up to Rhapsody.

The house looked empty and dark. Maybe he went out for dinner, Kurt thought as he dropped his bags in the foyer and began looking around.

"Blaine?"

There was no response, but Kurt saw the soft glow of a light down the hall, near the den.

"Blaine?"

The room was illuminated by the light of Blaine's laptop, which was queued up to the Taste Magazine web site, to Kurt's last column. Centered on the screen was the passage where Kurt mentioned moving on to regular duties.

Shit.

As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Kurt finally made out the silhouette of Blaine's head. He was seated on the couch, slumped into it, sipping at a glass of amber liquid. A half-empty bottle of Scotch sat on the table in front of him.

"Blaine."

"At your service."

"I'm home."

"Interesting word choice."

"You've been drinking."

"Ten points. I'll take Potent Potables for 200, Alex."

"You're drunk."

"You're astute."

"I wasn't planning on this right now, but we need to talk," Kurt circled around to face Blaine. "We need to talk about where this is going, Blaine."

"You want to talk about this now? With me? Why bother? You've already told your readers. You're out of here."

"What's gotten into you?"

"Scotch," Blaine said, raising his glass. "Scotch and a good stiff belt of reality."

"Baby, don't..."

"Baby?!? You're going to 'baby' me? Is that how it works? Avoid the issue for months and then when I get upset you 'baby' me and use that voice because you know I'll fall for it every fucking time?"

"Blaine, don't."

"Don't what? Don't talk about it? Just avoid the subject, just a little longer, so you can slip out of town without a fight?"

"Blaine—"

"Hey, it was a pretty good deal when you think about it. It's even cheaper than AmeriSuites and you get laid whenever you want. What hotel would offer you that package?"

"Don't."

"You know, maybe I should be proud of this. I'm Kurt Hummel's boy toy!"

"Blaine, you're drunk. And I'm not going to argue with you like this."

"More avoidance."

"Oh really? You want to talk avoidance? How about we talk about the elephant in the room, Blaine? How about we talk about the reason I haven't talked about the future with you?"

Blaine stared at him.

"God Blaine, have you done anything, said anything, to make me think I should stay? Have you once, have you ever even hinted that you love me? Because I've been saying it for months, and I don't seem to remember you ever reciprocating, even after I asked you about it." 

Blaine opened his mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out.

"I tell you I love you and you change the subject. Or maybe you kiss me or hold me. Oh, and sometimes when I say it, you just want to fuck me," Kurt hissed, unable to hold back any longer. "Is that how you say you love someone, Blaine? Because maybe I just missed something."

Kurt landed his punch. 

Blaine breathed heavily through his mouth, unable to attach words to his blurred thoughts.

"Enough," Kurt said. "I'm done. No more."

Blaine wasn't sure if it was the way the words slapped at him, or if it was just the Scotch, but he had to squint to focus his increasingly blurred vision. He set his palm against the seat of the couch to steady himself, and tried to let Kurt's words pass harmlessly.

"I guess it's a good thing I didn't unpack." Kurt pulled his phone out of his pocket. "I'm calling the driver back. I'll send someone to pick up the rest of my things."

 

And with that, Kurt took his phone and his suitcase and walked out the door. 

****